Supreme Court to Hear Case of Oklahoma Death Row Inmate - The World News

Supreme Court to Hear Case of Oklahoma Death Row Inmate

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether Richard Glossip, a death row inmate in Oklahoma, deserves a new trial in light of newly disclosed evidence and an extraordinary concession from the state’s Republican attorney general.

Mr. Glossip was convicted in 1998 of arranging the death of his employer, the owner of a motel in Oklahoma City. Two independent investigations have cast doubt on his guilt, and he has attracted support from celebrities like Kim Kardashian and state lawmakers from both political parties.

The state’s attorney general, Gentner F. Drummond, told the justices that the state had “come to the difficult but essential conclusion that Glossip’s capital conviction is unsustainable and a new trial imperative.”

He added, “The injustice of allowing a capital sentence to be carried out where the conviction was occasioned by the government’s own admitted failings would be nigh unfathomable.”

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.

Recently disclosed documents contradicted Mr. Sneed’s testimony about whether he had been treated by a psychiatrist, and they appeared to show that he had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder.

“When I was arrested,” Mr. Sneed testified, “I asked for some Sudafed because I had a cold, but then shortly after that somehow they ended up giving me lithium for some reason.”

“I don’t know why,” he added. “I never seen no psychiatrist or anything.”

In fact, the state’s brief said: “Sneed had been treated by a psychiatrist in 1997. Further, he was not prescribed lithium for a cold. Instead, he was prescribed it to treat his serious psychiatric condition that combined with his known methamphetamine use would have had an impact on his credibility and memory recall in addition to causing him to become potentially violent or suffer from paranoia.”

Prosecutors had reason to know that Mr. Sneed’s testimony was false, the state’s brief said. “Despite this knowledge,” it said, “the state permitted Sneed to effectively hide his psychiatric condition and the reason for his prior lithium prescription through materially false testimony to the jury.”

Mr. Drummond had made similar arguments to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for criminal matters, but that court unanimously rejected his confession of error. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board deadlocked by a 2-to-2 vote on Mr. Glossip’s request for a recommendation of clemency.

The Supreme Court’s brief order granting review in the case noted that Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who had heard an aspect of the case as an appeals court judge, was recused from it. The order also instructed the lawyers to address in their briefs whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to review the Oklahoma court’s ruling in light of the possibility that it was based entirely on state law.

If the Supreme Court follows its usual practices, it will hear arguments in the case, Glossip v. Oklahoma, No. 22-7466, in its next term, which starts in October.

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