Criminal Justice

Reed Smith's pro bono report expresses 'grave' concerns about death row inmate's conviction

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A lawyer for an Oklahoma inmate plans to seek a stay of execution after Reed Smith released a report on its independent investigation of the case, undertaken pro bono at the request of a bipartisan group of more than 30 state lawmakers.

Reed Smith’s June 7 report expresses “grave doubt” as to the integrity of the conviction and death sentence of the inmate, Richard Glossip, who was convicted of killing his boss. The results were released at a June 15 press conference.

The investigation was conducted by a team of more than 30 lawyers, three investigators and two paralegals who spent more than 3,000 pro bono hours on the case, according to a June 15 Reed Smith press release. Crowe & Dunlevy assisted with Oklahoma legal issues.

Glossip, the manager of the Best Budget Inn Oklahoma City motel, was convicted of killing motel owner Barry Van Treese based on testimony by co-defendant Justin Sneed, the motel maintenance man. Evidence showed that Sneed, a drug user with a history of violence and a prior criminal record, had beaten Van Treese to death with a baseball bat during a robbery in January 1997.

Sneed implicated Glossip after detectives mentioned Glossip’s name six times during Sneed’s interrogation. Sneed said Glossip wanted Van Treese killed, so Glossip could run the motel. Sneed received a life sentence by agreeing to implicate Glossip, the report said.

“There is no physical or forensic evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, linking Glossip to Sneed’s brutal murder [of Van Treese],” the report said. “Further, no person, other than Sneed, testified that Glossip had anything to do” with the slaying of Van Treese.

Key physical evidence and potentially exculpatory financial documents were destroyed before a retrial of Glossip. Other critical evidence, including video from a nearby Sinclair Gas Station, appears to be lost.

Glossip has always maintained his innocence.

Stan Perry, a Reed Smith partner, announced the results at the press conference, according to the press release.

“For more than 20 years, concerns have been raised regarding the integrity of Richard Glossip’s conviction and death sentence,” Perry said in the press release. “The findings of our independent review reveal a cascade of failures and breakdowns in procedure that should never occur and most certainly never in capital punishment cases.”

Oklahoma State Rep. Kevin McDugle, a Republican from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, also appeared at the press conference. McDugle said Glossip deserves a new hearing to make sure that the state isn’t executing an innocent man, according to a press release.

Warren Gotcher of Gotcher & Beaver, a lawyer for Glossip, notified the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals of his intention to seek an execution stay in a June 15 court filing.

“The Reed Smith report presents the clearest evidence yet of Richard Glossip’s innocence,” said Don Knight, another lawyer for Glossip, in a statement to the ABA Journal. “It is now undeniable that a botched and sloppy police investigation, reckless handling of evidence by the prosecution, and incompetent defense attorneys put an innocent man on death row.”

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