Court halts execution of Oklahoma man who claims innocence

AP News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2015 1:54 PM
Court halts execution of Oklahoma man who claims innocence

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — An appeals court halted the execution of an Oklahoma man with just hours to spare Wednesday after his attorneys said they had uncovered new evidence, including a fellow inmate's claim that he overheard another man convicted in the case admit he acted alone.

Richard Eugene Glossip was twice convicted of ordering the killing of Barry Van Treese, who owned the Oklahoma City motel where he worked. A co-worker who testified against Glossip, Justin Sneed, admitted beating Van Treese with a baseball bat and was sentenced to life in prison.

Glossip, 52, had been set for execution at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to delay his lethal injection just before noon. Glossip's lawyers said they obtained a signed affidavit from another inmate, Michael Scott, who claims he heard Sneed say "he set Richard Glossip up, and that Richard Glossip didn't do anything."

The court said it granted the last-minute request "in order for this court to give fair consideration" to Glossip's claims. The court rescheduled his execution for Sept. 30.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who has rejected calls to delay Glossip's execution, said her office would respect "whatever decision the court makes."

"As I have repeatedly said, court is the proper place for Richard Glossip and his legal team to argue the merits of his case," Fallin said. "My thoughts and prayers go out to the Van Treese family who has suffered greatly during this long ordeal."

Glossip's daughter, Ericka Glossip-Hodge, said she and several family members were on their way to McAlester prison when told of the court decision.

"Everybody is freaking out. We're really excited," Glossip-Hodge said. "We actually got off the road and pulled over."

During Glossip's trials, prosecutors alleged Glossip masterminded the killing because he was afraid Van Treese was about to fire him for embezzling money and poorly managing the motel.

Two juries convicted Glossip and sentenced him to death. His execution would have been the first in Oklahoma since a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state's three-drug lethal injection formula in June.

Glossip's case garnered international attention after Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, who played a nun in the movie "Dead Man Walking," took up his cause. The woman Sarandon portrayed in the movie, anti-death penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean, has served as Glossip's spiritual adviser and frequently visited him in prison.

On Tuesday, Glossip maintained his innocence during a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press. He said he hoped his life would be spared, and that he remained optimistic.

"They'll never take that from me," Glossip told the AP. "I won't let it bring me down. If you've got to go out ... you don't want to be bitter and angry about it."

Glossip's new execution date is one week before the scheduled execution of Benjamin Cole. After the botched execution of inmate Clayton Lockett last spring, a state review committee recommended that at least a week pass between executions.

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Associated Press writers Tim Talley in Oklahoma City and Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.