OKLAHOMA CITY — An attorney for an Oklahoma death-row inmate testified Wednesday that he has found new potential witnesses who might be able to help his client’s case but who would be prevented from testifying by a state law because his client’s appeals have been exhausted.
Attorney Don Knight, who represents death-row inmate Richard Glossip, testified before the House Public Safety Committee during a hearing about the future of the death penalty in Oklahoma.
Glossip was convicted of ordering the beating death of Oklahoma City motel owner Barry Van Treese in 1997 and was sentenced to die. Another man, Justin Sneed, admitted to robbing and beating Van Treese with a baseball bat but said he did so only after Glossip promised to pay him $10,000. Sneed was sentenced to life in prison.
Knight, who joined Glossip’s defense team after his appeals were exhausted, claims he also hasn’t been able to access all of the evidence and files in the case.
Among the new witnesses Knight says he’s found are a dancer at a club near the motel who could testify that Sneed previously plotted to rob victims at the motel, as well as an inmate incarcerated with Sneed in 1997 who recalled Sneed talking about a plan to rob Van Treese.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, whose office prosecuted Glossip before Prater took office, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment about Knight’s comments. But Prater has said previously that he’s confident in Glossip’s guilt and that, if necessary, he would retry Glossip and again seek the death penalty.
Oklahoma once had one of the nation’s busiest death chambers, but a moratorium on capital punishment has been in place since 2015 following three consecutive flawed executions. Glossip himself was just hours away from being executed in 2015 when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug.
Although the state has revamped its execution protocols and obtained a new source of lethal drugs, Attorney General Mike Hunter told the committee that a challenge to the procedure is likely to continue in federal court at least into early 2021.
Of the 56 inmates currently on death row in Oklahoma, 31 have exhausted their appeals and are awaiting execution dates, said Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow.
Rep. Kevin McDugle, a Republican from Broken Arrow, requested Wednesday’s study because of concerns that Oklahoma’s laws could result in an innocent person’s being put to death in Oklahoma.
“I’m trying to find out what can I do to make this process better,” McDugle said. “I’m not about ending the death penalty, by any means, but I want to make sure we’re not executing an innocent person, either.”
Among the statutory changes McDugle said he’s considering are that attorneys for death-row inmates have access to all evidence and files in the case and that any newly discovered evidence in a case can be presented to a judge.