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.


Ten Questions About The Oklahoma Earthquake Crisis

Balcombe anti fracking camp on Flickr The Commons

Here’s a list of ten questions about the ongoing earthquake crisis here in central Oklahoma:

(1) What is the current financial cost of the overall damage to houses, buildings, highway infrastructure and the environment because of the recent earthquake crisis caused by the hydraulic fracturing process in Oklahoma?

(2) How can house owners prove all the foundational/wall cracks and warped windowsills and doorsills were even caused by the earthquakes even though the residents absolutely know they occurred right after particular earthquakes?

(3) How much will the earthquakes lower property values here?

(4) The first major earthquake related to the fracking process was near Prague in Nov. 5, 2011? Why has it taken Gov. Mary Fallin and other state leaders so long to respond to the crisis?

(5) What are some of the potential impacts if the earthquake surge goes on for several more years or decades or indefinitely?

(6) The Oklahoman editorial board continues to insist the state has adequate earthquake policies in effect. Why won’t it allow dissenting views to this position since so much is at stake for everyone?

(7) When will an enterprising attorney or law firm start a highly visible class action lawsuit against the oil and gas industry on this issue?

(8) State leaders, the media and some people in the oil and gas industry are always quick to point out it’s the wastewater injection wells used in the fracking process not the actual fracking itself that causes the earthquakes. Since the two processes are inextricably linked, why make a big deal about the distinction or why not simply dispose of the toxic wastewater in a safer manner?

(9) Why won’t the Oklahoma Corporation Commission do more to try to stop the earthquakes, such as issuing a complete or limited moratorium on wastewater injection disposal wells?

(10) It is expected the state could experience 800 or more 3.0-magnitude earthquakes in 2015. That’s a staggering number, and it’s growing exponentially. Just a few years ago, Oklahoma experienced on average only two or three earthquakes a year. What annual number of earthquakes would force a massive human migration from Earthquake Central, OK?

Be sure to read my last post about the complicity of Gov. Mary Fallin, The Oklahoman and the oil and gas industry to downplay the earthquake emergency here. Here’s another recent Okie Funk take on the crisis.


The Branch of Defiance

Image of Mary Fallin

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin isn’t generally known for possessing brilliant oratory skills or known for making witty and resonating off-the-cuff remarks to the press, but that held true for her Democratic predecessor Gov. Brad Henry.

Maybe a majority of Oklahoman voters just don’t trust slick talkers. Certainly, there’s a lot of distrust here for President Barack Obama, one of the best orators ever elected to political office. The use of soaring rhetoric and ironic, witty retorts, the result of intellectual insight and practice, must be an anathema to the down-home spinners here.

Given all that, it didn’t surprise me in the least that Fallin supposedly fumbled her way verbally through an attempt to defend the Ten Commandments monument, which still stands on state Capitol grounds despite the recent 7-2 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that it must be removed.

The media made a big deal about Fallin’s definition of the three branches of government when she talked to reporters about supporting the monument recently. This is really just a side issue to what she was trying to say, and I’m fairly certain the college-educated Fallin knows the three branches of government include the executive, legislative and judicial. Here’s the Fallin quote that caused the media storm:

You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.

I’m not the first to point this out, but the so-called gaffe (or, really, was it a gaffe?) is far less important than a governor openly ignoring a court ruling so people can decide to impose their religious beliefs on other people. The judicial branch of government was established, among other things, to prevent such occurrences. The rule of law prevents the rule of mob and tyranny over minorities.

Fallin’s specific point seems to be that she wants the legislature to create a ballot title so voters can repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution in a general election. That section states:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

At this point, I’ve written about this section and the ruling so much I’m losing some interest in its legal and historical specifics. Here’s my last post on the issue. Here’s the one before that. The court’s ruling, it should be noted, is not at all controversial in any legal sense. Read the section. Note that the Ten Commandments monument is currently on public property.

What everyone should be concerned with, however, is that Fallin has NOT ordered the monument removed and is acting defiantly against the basic rule of law. Even if Oklahoma voters eventually vote to repeal the section, which is a reasonable expectation, then the monument should be removed until they do so. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has essentially asked the court to reconsider the decision, but the 7 to 2 vote represents a solid majority.

Both Fallin and Pruitt probably also know, along with their three branches of government, that there’s still constitutional arguments to be made on the state level against the public location of the monument beyond the use of Article 2, Section 5, or at least I think so. There’s also the federal court system as well, the overall issue of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment. It’s highly unlikely the American Civil Liberties Union will give up on the case if the state constitutional section is repealed. This case is going to go on.

I have a deep appreciation for the historical civil disobedience practiced peacefully by Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers during the civil rights movement, but the Ten Commandments monument case doesn’t begin to rise to this level. The vast majority of people in Oklahoma have broad access to the Ten Commandments. It’s in the Bible. It can be found on the Internet. Study it. Promote it. Talk about it in Sunday School classes. The monument’s public location isn’t a matter of a violation of rights or an action for equality, precepts guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The monument is a stone with some words on it put up in 2012 and paid for by the family of state Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow and a Southern Baptist ordained deacon and Sunday School teacher. Put up the monument on some private property. Allow people to view it. I would bet most people against the monument’s public location wouldn’t mind or care. I certainly wouldn’t care. But Fallin should comply with the court ruling and get it off state property.

The lesson taught here is not that our governor doesn’t even know the three branches of government, which she most likely does, but that it’s okay to ignore the rule of law and the judicial branch of government. Ignoring the rule of law in this case is not heroic civil disobedience. This is about publicly privileging Judeo-Christian religious edicts above other religions and people without religious affiliations. It’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state.