Glossip Case Exposes Flaws In Death Penalty Logic

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 from Flickr The Commons

The stark disconnect between the responses to Richard Glossip’s pending execution by high-level state leaders compared to the responses by well-known and influential people outside the government creates another huge image flop for Oklahoma.

It’s a reality issue. The huge canyon separating the opposite perspectives alone, even though it seems counter-intuitive on a local level because of conservative support for capital punishment, means the beginning of the end here for the death penalty in Oklahoma. Good riddance. We don’t need it here, and we don’t need the worldwide condemnation that goes with it.

Here’s the narrative about Oklahoma to the outside world created by leaders such as Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater:

Oklahoma is the home of burn-them-at-the-stake zealots who worship the death penalty as a sort of ideological and litmus-test idol that goes far beyond a simple belief that it deters crime. It’s not even eye-for-an-eye justice, which would make more sense in a right-wing state filled with Christian fundamentalists. It’s much more perverse than that. It’s borderline ritualistic killing for its own sake, an ordinary practice here, a grotesque yet routine political tic, rather than a deterrent. It’s a human sacrifice to honor the sickness of self-righteous hubris.

CNN, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have published editorials against proceeding with the execution. Actress Susan Sarandon, well-known anti-death penalty activist and Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean and British billionaire businessman Richard Branson have spoken out against the execution. Locally, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and, of all people, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn have asked for a stay of execution. That’s such a small sampling of the highly visible protest the case has generated.

As Scott Martelle, writing in the Los Angeles Times, puts it about the case, “This is where the death penalty gets its full exposure as a ludicrous practice.”

Here’s a review of the case containing significant links from my last post. My purpose here in this specific post is not to go through the case again. Anyone following the case knows that on Wednesday Glossip was granted a last minute stay of execution by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for two weeks. He’s now scheduled to be killed by lethal injection Sept. 30 unless a court can be swayed otherwise for a murder no one has ever accused him of physically committing.

The response to Glossip’s pending execution and the murder case itself from the state leaders I mentioned earlier has been telling. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who didn’t even prosecute the case, called the effort to stop Glossip’s execution a “bullshit PR campaign.” Gov. Mary Fallin has stoically and repeatedly used a version of this generic sentence in her statements: “After carefully reviewing the facts of this case multiple times, I see no reason to cast doubt on the guilty verdict reached by the jury or to delay Glossip’s sentence of death.” Pruitt’s response to Glossip’s temporary stay of execution contained similar generic, stock-photo language:

“The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals indicated it needs more time to review the filings. I’m confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals, after reviewing the filings, will conclude there is nothing worthy which would lead the court to overturn a verdict reached by two juries who both found Glossip guilty and sentenced him to death for Barry Van Treese’s murder.”

Confidence reigns when it comes to deploying the death penalty in Oklahoma. State leaders are utterly certain of Glossip’s guilt; by default, we can assume they entirely endorse his death sentence and the death penalty in general. No reason to do anything then, the reasoning goes, among THE leaders. Anyone who argues otherwise is, well, they’re full of BS, as Prater puts it. This is what the world is hearing these days and will continue to hear in the days to come about Oklahoma, which leads the nation in executions on a per capita basis.

People throughout the world are shaking their heads in disgust at the cavalier treatment of a person’s life in this irrational legal case.

The counter argument we hear is that in 1997 Van Treese was beaten to death by a man with a baseball bat in a motel room in Oklahoma City, and he was treated the worst of anyone in this quagmire of blood, loss and media spectacle. But it goes without saying his death was a terrible tragedy. Here’s the important caveat: It wasn’t Glossip who killed him. The murderer was Justin Sneed, who received life in prison instead of death for the killing in exchange for testifying that Glossip asked him to do it.

Fallin, Pruitt and Prater don’t claim Glossip physically killed Van Treese. No one does. Yet these three leaders want Glossip to die while conceding implicitly at least that Van Treese’s actual killer should live. In other words, they believe justice will be served under this frame of illogic.

Not one of these state leaders has fully addressed the issue of why someone can be put to death in this country based almost exclusively on the testimony of a murderer who is trying to save his own life. Such plea bargains might make sense in dealing with non-death penalty punishment crimes, such as armed robbery, burglary or fraud cases, especially when there is extensive corroborating evidence, but the death penalty is irrevocable, and thus such bargains in these cases are immoral, unethical and unconstitutional.

Glossip’s attorneys are presenting new evidence they hope will show he wasn’t an accomplice in the murder. Whatever the outcome of this case, this is the beginning of the end for the death penalty here in Oklahoma and perhaps elsewhere in this country. It might take a while, but this is a turning point. Too many people are paying attention now.

The Glossip case shows starkly that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily, capriciously and unfairly. Its legal application is so illogical, as historical documentation clearly shows, that it defies any semblance of rationality. The government consistently and mistakenly kills innocent people charged with murder. It’s blatantly immoral because of this documented fact alone. Most Western and enlightened countries, and many states in this nation, have banned or don’t practice the death penalty. Even Nebraska banned it in May.

The only government-sanctioned execution that needs to happen should be inflicted on the practice itself. Death to the death penalty. Meanwhile, Oklahoma leaders and those in the criminal justice system here should show some basic mercy and apply some basic logic. Let Glossip live.

Worldwide Outcry: Stop The Glossip Execution

Image of Richard Glossip

The main legal and ethical question debated in years to come may well be NOT whether Oklahoma executed an innocent man today, but why the state killed a man almost exclusively based on the testimony of an actual confessed murderer who received the lesser sentence of life in prison in the case.

The murderer, Justin Sneed, received life in prison for his testimony against Richard Glossip in a plea deal with prosecutors. His supposed accomplice in the case, Glossip, pictured above, who has never been charged with committing the actual physical act of murder or even been alleged to have witnessed the brutal beating death take place, will die unless Gov. Mary Fallin issues a temporary stay of execution or an appeals court steps in and stops it.

The murder case in a legal sense is a twisted, illogical quagmire. The outcome at trial was twice immoral. This particular death sentence is as barbaric as it gets. It exposes a major flaw in our justice system. For these reasons, and for the very real chance Glossip wasn’t an accomplice in the case at all as argued by his attorneys and supporters, the execution should be stopped.

The pending execution of Glossip, who before the murder had no criminal record, has drawn worldwide attention and intense condemnation. Among the disparate group, which wants Fallin to issue him a 60-day stay of execution, are actress Susan Sarandon, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. When Sarandon and Coburn, in particular, are in agreement on an issue Fallin should take notice.

The 1997 Oklahoma City murder case has been described in the local, national and worldwide media in various and contradictory ways over the last several weeks, which only reveals the ambiguity of language, which is important because it was language and its limitations, not physical evidence, that convicted Glossip and resulted in his death sentence.

Glossip, who has maintained his innocence, received two trials, which actually clouds the facts even further, raising the issue of who said what and when, who told the truth then and tells it now, and what were and are the underlying motives of authorities, those prosecuted in the case and those who testified in the case.

The case is a muddle and morass of language and plural interpretation. It’s also very much about authorities in a law-and-order conservative state, which has the highest execution per capita rate among states in the nation, deploying the circular anti-life ideology of killing people in order to stop the killing of people. It reveals everything wrong about the death penalty, a punishment now prohibited or not practiced in most Western and enlightened countries and many states in our nation. Nebraska—NEBRASKA of all places—abolished the death penalty last May.

Here are the basic facts without embellishment as reported in the media over the last weeks: In 1997, Glossip worked at a motel in Oklahoma City owned by Barry Van Treese, who was found beaten to death. Sneed, who also worked at the motel, admitted to murdering Van Treese. He testified that Glossip offered to pay him to kill Van Treese. Glossip was eventually convicted and sentenced to death. Sneed received life in prison in exchange for his testimony against Glossip.

Once we go beyond this basic frame of these facts, the questions of intent, importance and reliability get raised. Here are some important questions: Even if Glossip did ask Sneed to kill Van Treese, does he deserve to die while the actual murderer gets to live? Is our justice system unjustly weighted in favor of people accepting plea agreements even in something as important as a death penalty case? Did Glossip get penalized with “death” because he asked for a jury trial? Is that how our justice system in Oklahoma and in our country should work?

Here’s a pro-death penalty version of the case from The Oklahoman. Here’s an anti-death penalty version of the case.

Glossip’s attorney and many of his supporters say there is new evidence in the case that could exonerate him. His attorney yesterday also filed an emergency request with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to stop the execution. Let me be clear: A 60-day stay of execution issued by Fallin wouldn’t hurt her or the Republican Party here politically. It’s not too much to ask of her. No one is asking authorities to release Glossip from prison. The appeals court could also act in Glossip’s favor, and it should.

The execution is scheduled for 3 p.m. today. Fallin still has time to act. The appeals court still has time to act. It’s not too late. No one, and that includes Fallin, will lose face or their conservative strong-on-crime credentials here if Glossip doesn’t die today.

There’s no such thing as consolation in this case, but if the execution happens it may well become the beginning of the end for the death penalty in Oklahoma. I believe that sincerely. Let the bell of justice ring out loud and clear if Glossip is killed under the auspices of the state of Oklahoma today for a murder no one claims he physically committed.

Rising Sea Levels Will Impact Oklahoma

Image of electric car in Amsterdam

A new scientific study has determined that burning all the fossil fuel deposits on earth would increase the world’s temperatures so much it would eventually melt all the ice in Antarctica.

That would lead to rising sea levels so large it would destroy major cities in the world, create massive migration and generate huge food shortages leading to starvation, according to an article in The New York Times about the study.

I won’t rehash in detail the article or the study, which can be found here. The study notes the melting could take place over a thousand years if humans don’t do anything significant to curb carbon emissions, but it does raise questions over the short-term for Oklahoma, a state rich in fossil fuels and heavily tied to the oil and gas industry.

Here are four of those questions:

(1) As it becomes more evident that global warming in coming years is damaging the planet, how and when will renewable and less harmful energy sources displace the oil and gas industry here?

(2) Will renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, create as much economic development locally as the oil and gas industry?

(3) Oklahomans have endured the boom and bust cycles of the oil and gas industry for generations, but what if the “bust” was permanent and the state has failed to diversify its economy?

(4) How should Oklahoman leaders envision, say, the state in 100 years if there was little to no oil and gas production here?

When compared to the millions and millions of years it takes dead organisms to decompose and form the fossils we burn for energy, The Fossil Fuel age, or The Oil Age, will be a small blip in the planet’s history if there’s anyone left to record it.

So far the response from many Oklahoma leaders to global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions is basic denial. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, for example, has based much of his Senate career on this denial, but as the evidence of global warming becomes increasingly clear, Oklahoma leaders will need to envision a day when the oil and gas industry is severely limited or non-existent here.

Syndicate content