Nearing the Eleventh Hour, Activists Ask Oklahoma to Spare Death Row Inmate

With Richard Glossip’s execution one day away, his legal team hopes new evidence will exonerate him.

Death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean. (Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Sep 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Actor Susan Sarandon, a former Republican senator, and a nun walked into the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday.

No, it’s not the start of a bad joke—it was the fourth time the group had gathered to ask Gov. Mary Fallin to halt the execution of Richard Glossip, a death row inmate who is scheduled to die on Wednesday. Advocates believe new evidence introduced Monday, including the affidavit of a man who says he heard Glossip’s codefendant brag about framing him, may be enough to clear his name.

Glossip, who has maintained his innocence through two trials, was arrested in 1997 and later found guilty for hiring a coworker, Justin Sneed, to kill the manager of a motel where he once worked. His name made headlines again this summer when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to stay his and other death row inmates’ executions in a case challenging the use of the lethal injection drug midazolam.

The high-profile coalition says the state’s only evidence against Glossip is testimony from Sneed, who was sentenced to life without parole in exchange for his guilty plea and testimony implicating Glossip in the murder of their boss, whom Sneed beat to death. Sneed has offered eight versions of his story over the course of the two trials in which he was convicted, according to Glossip’s legal team. The evidence introduced Monday included the affidavit of a man who was in prison with Sneed who said he repeatedly heard Sneed boast about setting Glossip up in exchange for a lighter sentence.

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The death row inmate’s high-profile supporters include anti–death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean; Sarandon, who portrayed Prejean in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking; and former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who have organized with advocacy group the Oklahoma Coalition Against the Death Penalty. A petition pleading with Fallin to spare Glossip’s life, begun by Sarandon and Prejean, had collected more than 230,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

“Oklahoma has been witness to botched executions,” Prejean said at a Sept. 3 press conference. “It has sent innocent people to death row—10 that we know of for sure so far, and with the execution of Richard Glossip drawing near, it is very likely that Oklahoma will add the death of an innocent man to this record of mistakes.”

In spite of the new evidence, the outcome doesn’t look good for Glossip: Fallin has previously denied requests to stay his execution, and a spokesperson has argued that Glossip has more than “had his day in court.” After the evidence was introduced Monday, Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater told local news outlets, “All they are trying to do is abolish the death penalty in the state of Oklahoma and this country by spreading a bunch of garbage,” going on to call the latest press conference “a bullshit PR campaign.”