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Diane & Peter


Well done is the opposite of well meant
October 3rd, Kansas City: The death penalty case against Richard Glossip
Now, who reads my articles and my comments on Yahoo knows, I am far from being an anti-death-penalty activist. Nevertheless, once in a while, there is a case that needs another look, and better before an execution takes place. The case of Richard Glossip is one of those. Glossip was sentenced to death not once but twice for the murder of Barry Van Treese in January of 1997 at a hotel in Oklahoma City that was managed at the time by Glossip. Van Treese had just audited the hotel and found financial discrepancies and sloppy day to day management. So, as the proscution claimed, Glossip hired a man, who worked for free lodging at this hotel, Justin Sneed, to kill Van Treese. There is no reasonable doubt, Sneed killed Van Treese with a baseball bat and stole $4000 he found in the victim's car. However, Sneed, the actual killer, got life in prison, Glossip was, depsite of the fact, no forensic evidence linked him to the murder, sentenced to death, got a second trial because he was woefully badly represented in the first one and received another death sentence, which is now about to be carried out. His appeals are now about the death penalty protocols, the drugs that can be used to put him to death, all those "formal" things, used a thousand times already be anti-death-penalty advocates to delay executions. Now, once more, I am not against the death penalty in murder cases that involve an element of special heinousness. But since the death penalty is final in its nature, there is extreme caution needed to uphold due process and there has to be evidence, real forensic evidence. The evidence against Glossip is:
  • The statement of Justin Sneed, who later bragged in prison, it was all his idea, he did it alone and he jumped the death penalty by setting up Richard Glossip.
  • The claim, Glossip embezzled $6,000 from the hotel, he managed and that Barry Van Treese found out about that. Actually, this claim was never proven and one has to see clearly, the prosecution claimed Richard Glossip paid $10,000 to Sneed to kill Van Treese to cover up for the embezzlement of $6,000. Which makes no sense.
  • In Glossip's possession, the police found $2,000, which the prosecution claimed, was Glossip's share of the $4,000, Sneed had stolen from the victim. However, since the prosecution also claimed, Glossip had the fingers in the hotel's cashier, it should have been much more, shouldn't it?
  • The prosecution claims, Glossip knew, Van Treese was killed and the body was in room 102 of the hotel and therefore put the room on no-maintenance. But then, the prosecution never made the claim, Glossip attempted in any way to get rid of the body.
There is more, but those are details. The main recgonition here is, the evidence against Glossip was thin to start with. The only thing, that is actually worth a discussion is the statement of Justin Sneed, who accused Glossip to have him hired as part of a deal in which he, Sneed, would get the death penalty off his own trial. So if Sneed would have said, no, he wasn't hired by Glossip, his own life would be forfit. Talking about motivation and reward of a prosecution witness here.
A lot of people saw this as injustice and as a reason to protest the pending execution and the death penalty per se.
That is exactly, where the problem got worse. Up to that point, Glossip's lawyers argued about the innocence of their client and about the circumstances, that surely not warranted a death penalty to begin with because the evidence didn't meet any reasonable quality criteria, one has to demand in a cpaital punishment case. But the new supporters, Glossip got where known as anti-death-penalty activists. People who had protested any death penalty case. People known to twist evidence, to defend the lifes of child murderers and serial killers without any thought about the victims and yes, some of them known for outright criminal actions during the fight for their "cause" by
tampering with evidence, bullying witnesses, bribing officers to change statements and such charming course of actions.
Here is the problem: Because of the things, some of those activists did in other cases, they lost a lot of credibility. It is like someone hires Judy Clarke as lawyer.

Left: Richard Glossip, right: Justin Sneed

As soon as Judy Clarke enters a court room, everybody knows, her client is guilty and she will badger everyone with delay tactics till prosecution, court and public will give up on the case while knowing, her client is guilty. Same thing with some of those anti-death-penatly activists. As soon as they show up, many people are convinced, they are just doing their rain dance again to protect another killer. And now, we have a case in which everyone has to have doubts, but everythintg that happened over the last decade was inseparable connected not anymore to the case but to the fight against the death penalty. The activists had hijacked the attention and therefore convinced everybody, Glossip is guilty. This makes Glossip the sacrificial lamb on their altar. It reminds me a lot of the trial of Lemual Smith for the murder of corrections officer Donna Payant when two high profile lawyers, William Kunstler and C. Vernon Mason, took care that their client got the death penalty so they could get a chance to bring the last part of death penalty laws in the State of New York to fall. Lemuel Smith is a serial killer, alright, Donna Payant wasn't his first victim. But in that case, he was also used as a pawn for a cause. And we should also keep in mind, Mason was later one of the main players in the Tawana Brawley hoax and Kunstler was already known for his wild stunts in court including his almost stereotype attempts to make juries think,the victim deserved to die because she was leading "a promiscous" life-style. He was the poster child of a lying, victim-bashing defense attorney - just like some of those anti-death-penalty activists are today.
The point is, this kind of activists has not only played away their own credibility, they have destroyed also a good part of the credibility of their cause and, even worse, created an automatic declaration of guilt for any inmate, they decide for. In the good old days, one needed actually evidence to get through with a death penalty and the following appeals, now, the appearance of such activists at the gate is sufficient to convince juries of the guilt of a man ... or woman.
This is not justice, neither one way nor the other. A trial in a criminal court has to deal with the crime. Cases have already been moved due to extensive media coverage in the counties where the crimes happened because it appeared impossible to perform a fair trial after journalists heated up the public and there were no jurors available who didn't read the papers. Now we are faced with the situation, that trials should be moved away from those activists to prevent that their mere presence influences the jury against the defendant. Now, how wrong sounds this? But then, those activists don't think about it, it is not even their concern. They fight the death penalty, they don't fight for the defendant in the first place. A dead defendant is water on their mills, the necessary blood sacrifice on their altar. And while I am for the death penalty in cases involving the element of special heinousness, this is not justice, that is a travesty!
Now, back to Richard Glossip. Is he guilty? He probably is! But since the evidence is so thin, the prosecution failed to prove it and convinced the jury on an emotional level in which those activists played their part. Thus, one can doubt the guilty verdict. But even if the guilty verdict stands, does this case fulfil the requirements for a death sentence? Now, it may surprises readers, but there are no rules for this written in stone. The evidence against Glossip is all circumstantial respectively second hand testimony or worse, the testimony of a man who would condemn himself if he wouldn't have said "Glossip was involved". There is no forensic evidence against Richard Glossip. And the special heinousness was, according to the prosecution, that Glossip hired Sneed to murder Van Treese, which they actually couldn't prove by any hard evidence. We have once more only Sneed's word for it and if Sneed would have said anything else, his life would have been at the stake. The prosecution went even so far as to bully two witnesses who claimed, Sneed had bragged in prison about how he set up Glossip to save his own life.
In my opinion, and that's really only my personal opinion, a capital punishment case has to be watertight. Forensic evidence, more than one dubious witness with his own life riding on it and most important, a prosecution's behavior that is also beyond reproach. Harassing witnesses out of court is definitively not beyond reproach. The death penalty is the ultimate punishment reserved for the worst offenders and, given other kinks of the justice system, the only measure certain to prevent repeat offenses. But once you put someone to death, you can't later say "sorry, we messed up!" There is no way to bring someone back. And thus, we need a quality standard. A lot of defense lawyers try to play the system, behave utterly frivolously and are a real pain in the rear by pulling every trick in the book to defend a defendant, they know to be guilty. It's their job. The prosecution on the other hand is not really there to ramp up hit/miss ratios. They are there to represent the people and their search for justice. Politically ambitious DAs have always appeared as a danger to the system to me more than defense attorneys like Judy Clarke. Because we can rather afford to have a killer for a life time in prison than an innocent man sentenced to death for the sake of a "success" for a DA he can use in the next election. It's just a wrong measure to estimate a DA's performance. To ensure, we get the right measure, we need this quality standard of evidence presented in court. But of course, this also plays to both sides because we are also facing often enough judges throwing out forensic evidence based on rather arbitrary is any reasons at all.
At the end, we have to admit, the case against Richard Glossip doesn't fit this quality standard, neither as far as the evidence goes, nor when it comes to the behavior of the prosecution. To execute a man with the burden of all that doubt on our backs ... well, lets just say, we, the people have to think hard about what we will load on our conscience there. And of course, we will also have to think hard, if we would re-elect a DA who has himself compromised by harrassing witnesses out of court already. But then, I am obviously no inhabitant of Oklahoma, thus not eligible to vote against the current DA. The people of Oklahoma will have to decide what to do about that aspect of the Glossip case when the time of elections comes up again.

- PB -
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Copyright if not otherwise mentioned Peter and Diane Brendt 2010-. All copies, also in parts, demand the written consent of the copyright holders