OKLAHOMA CITY – An attorney for a death row inmate in Oklahoma testified Wednesday that he had found new potential witnesses who may be able to assist his client's case but who were prevented by state law from testifying because his client's callings are exhausted.
Attorney Don Knight, who represents death row inmate Richard Glossip, testified before the House Public Safety Committee during a hearing on 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 death. Another man, Justin Sneed, admitted robbing and hitting Van Treese with a baseball bat but only said so after Glossip promised to pay him $ 10,000. Sneed was sentenced to life in prison.
Knight, who joined Glossip's defense team after exhausting his appointments, claims he also did not have access to all of the evidence and files in the case. Among the new witnesses Knight found are a dancer at a club near the motel who may testify that Sneed previously planned to rob the motel's victims, and an inmate detained with Sneed in 1997 who is committed to it recalled that Sneed had discussed a plan to rob Van Treese.
Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater, whose office Glossip was tracking prior to Prater taking office, did not immediately respond to a message asking for his comment on Knight's comments. But Prater has previously said that he is convinced of Glossip's guilt and that if necessary, he would try Glossip again and petition for the death penalty.
Oklahoma once had one of the busiest death chambers in the country, but a moratorium on the death penalty has existed since 2015 after three consecutive erroneous executions. Glossip himself was only hours away from his 2015 execution when prison officials discovered they had been given the wrong lethal drug.
Despite the state's revision of its execution protocols and a new source of lethal drugs, Attorney General Mike Hunter told the committee that a challenge to the trial in federal court is expected to last at least until early 2021.
Of the 56 inmates currently on death row in Oklahoma, 31 have exhausted their appeals and awaiting an execution date, said Scott Crow, director of corrections.
Broken Arrow Republican Kevin McDugle filed for the trial on Wednesday because he feared Oklahoma laws could result in the killing of an innocent person in Oklahoma.
"I'm trying to find out what I can do to improve this process," said McDugle. "I don't want to end the death penalty, but I want to make sure we don't execute innocent people either."
Some of the legislative changes McDugle is considering include allowing death row attorneys to have access to all evidence and records in the case, and any newly discovered evidence in a case to be brought to a judge.