Lawyers call such statements “confessions of error,” and courts ordinarily give them great weight. In May, after hearing from Mr. Drummond, the Supreme Court halted Mr. Glossip’s execution while the justices considered whether to hear his appeal.
Mr. Drummond’s briefs were notable for a second reason: The lead lawyer representing the state was Paul D. Clement, who was solicitor general in the administration of George W. Bush and is a star of the Supreme Court bar, having argued more than 100 cases before the justices.
The court’s conservative majority is generally skeptical of appeals from death row inmates, seeming to view them as products of litigation gamesmanship meant to delay executions indefinitely. Last January, however, the court gave Areli Escobar, a death row inmate in Texas, a new chance to challenge his conviction in light of a district attorney’s confession of error after the discovery of flawed DNA evidence.
Mr. Glossip, 60, was convicted based on the testimony of, in the words of one of Oklahoma’s Supreme Court briefs, “the state’s indispensable witness,” a handyman named Justin Sneed. The handyman pleaded guilty to killing Barry Van Treese, the motel owner, beating him to death in 1997 with a baseball bat.
Mr. Sneed, who received a life sentence, testified that Mr. Glossip, the motel’s manager, had instructed him to kill Mr. Van Treese.