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An Innocent Man is About to Be Put to Death


I have long abhorred the death penalty. The thought of killing someone for the crime of killing someone else seems so cruelly ironic. My abhorrence only intensified when I learned of a study that showed at least 4.1% of those put to death in America are innocent. When you figure that more than 1,400 people have been put to death in America since 1976, the thought of at least 50 innocent people being murdered for crimes they didn’t commit is terrifying.

Fortunately, some inmates are exonerated before an execution can be carried out, but not before first sacrificing their freedom for years at the hands of an unjust system. As of June 8, 2015, 155 people have been exonerated of the crime that landed them on death row.

One man, Richard Glossip, is fighting to be #156.

Last week, Richard almost lost that chance. He came only three hours away from losing his life for a crime evidence shows he didn’t commit, before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a two-week stay of execution to consider a last-minute petition by his new, pro bono legal team.

But how does a man get convicted of a crime he didn’t commit? In this case, it was actually pretty simple. In exchange for a reduced sentence, a man who admits to murder claims to prosecutors he was hired to do it by Richard. Justin Sneed is currently serving a life sentence for murdering Barry Van Treese—a crime he admits he committed. The first three times that police questioned Sneed, Richard’s name never came up. But when Sneed was given the chance to save his own life in return for pegging Glossip as the mastermind—as detectives manipulated him to do—it was an easy decision.

Since day one, Richard has maintained his innocence. In fact, Richard has been offered a life sentence in exchange for a confession, and twice he has refused to admit to a crime he didn’t commit.

Unfortunately, Richard has been a victim of a system in which those who do not have access to lots of money are often then excluded from access to a competent defense. A public defender with a caseload 500 cases deep is not a competent defense. Crucial evidence was left out of Richard’s trials—including the taped confession of Sneed, in which it was clear to see that the detectives baited him to say Richard hired him to commit the murder. No physical evidence was ever found to connect Richard to the crime. Sneed even bragged in jail about setting Richard up.

Oklahoma has a history of convicting innocent people on the basis of nothing more than “snitch testimony.” Ten Oklahomans have been exonerated from death row, several after being convicted in the same way as Richard, using evidence based solely on the testimony of the true perpetrator of the crime.

More than 240,000 MoveOn members signed a petition by Susan Sarandon and Sister Helen Prejean demanding a stay of execution for Richard, and more than 7,000 called Governor Mary Fallin to send the same message. Top journalists have joined the fight using their platform to provide the truth about this case. Even Sneed’s own daughter has come out and said that she believes her father to be the sole perpetrator of the crime that cost Barry Van Treese his life.

The Oklahoma Court of Appeals heard our requests and granted Richard a two-week stay of execution, but now he is just days away from being killed. Gov. Fallin has continued to ignore the calls of people from every state in America demanding that she grant a 60-day stay of execution so that Richard’s new pro-bono lawyers can prove his innocence. Her refusal could very well be the difference between the life and death of an innocent man.

Richard now has top notch lawyers working none stop to save his life—that’s why there’s a glimmer of hope that we can save his life. But we need this case to remain in the public spotlight to help put pressure on the governor to grant a stay of execution and give the attorneys more time to prove his innocence. These pro-bono lawyers have only been working on Richard’s case since July and look at what they’ve already found. 

On September 30, Justin Sneed could claim another victim’s life: Richard Glossip’s. We can’t let that happen. Join me in demanding Governor Mary Fallin and the state of Oklahoma not execute an innocent man.