High Court Will Review Okla. Inmate's Innocence Claim

By Katie Buehler | January 22, 2024, 10:32 AM EST ·

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the case of an Oklahoma death row inmate who defense attorneys and the state's attorney general agree was wrongfully convicted of the 1997 killing of an Oklahoma City man because prosecutors failed to turn over critical information about their key witness.

The justices voted 8-0 on Jan. 22 to grant Richard Eugene Glossip's May petition for review following almost a year of deliberations over whether to review the case, during which it was relisted 11 times. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the decision announced Monday, according to a court order.

The court took no action on a related petition Glossip filed last January that has been relisted 19 times. That petition was filed before Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond admitted in May that prosecutors failed to hand over critical information that defense attorneys could've used to impeach the state's key witness.

John R. Mills of Phillips Black Inc., an attorney for Glossip, issued a statement Monday saying Glossip and his legal team are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to review his claims.

"Mr. Glossip is innocent of the murder for which he faces execution," Mills said. "He has no criminal history, no history of misconduct during his entire time in prison, and has maintained his innocence throughout a quarter-century wrongfully on death row. It is time — past time — for his nightmare to be over." 

Drummond, who still asserts Glossip is guilty of murder and is seeking a retrial, also applauded the high court's decision.

"Public confidence in the death penalty requires the highest standard of reliability, so it is appropriate that the U.S. Supreme Court will review this case," he said. "As Oklahoma's chief law officer, I will continue fighting to ensure justice is done in this case and every other."

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Oklahoma's suppression of evidence about a key witness' mental state and the circumstances leading to his testimony violated Glossip's due process rights and requires reversal of his conviction. The court also asked Glossip and Oklahoma to file briefs on whether Oklahoma's Post-Conviction Procedure Act strips the high court of jurisdiction to review the case, an argument family members of the slain man made in a June amicus brief.

Glossip, 60, who maintains his innocence, was twice convicted — in 1998 and 2004 — of orchestrating the January 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese, the owner of an Oklahoma City motel where Glossip worked as a manager. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals threw out his first conviction in 2001 after finding Glossip had received unconstitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel.

His 2004 conviction "hinged almost entirely" on the testimony of Justin Sneed, a then-19-year-old handyman at the motel who confessed to beating and stabbing Van Treese to death in a guest room after Glossip offered to pay him to carry out the murder, according to Drummond's July brief.

Sneed blamed Glossip for the killing after detectives suggested Glossip's name several times during interviews and told Sneed he would face the death penalty for Van Treese's murder, according to court documents. Sneed is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Two investigations into Glossip's prosecution, one by Reed Smith LLP attorneys in 2022 and another by former Osage County, Oklahoma, prosecutor Rex Duncan, concluded that prosecutors committed several violations under the Supreme Court's 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland , which requires prosecutors in criminal cases to turn over all exculpatory or mitigating evidence to defense lawyers.

In Glossip's case, prosecutors failed to notify defense attorneys that Sneed had a history of mental illness and was being treated for bipolar disorder at the time of his testimony. They also didn't share evidence that Sneed wanted to recant his confession, and allegedly lost 10 boxes of evidence ahead of trial, according to court documents.

Following the investigations, Glossip filed a petition for post-conviction relief with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, but was denied his request after the court held that he hadn't presented any new evidence to support his innocence claim.

Van Treese's family argued in a June amicus brief that the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction over Glossip's case because the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals' decision affirming his conviction is based on independent state-law claims, and not federal-law claims.

Both Drummond and Glossip argue the appellate court's decision was based on Brady and the Supreme Court's 1959 decision in Napue v. Illinois , which held that a prosecutor's presentation of knowingly false testimony violates the 14th Amendment's due process clause.

"Granting relief that Glossip seeks, and in which the state joins, would not allow him to walk free," Drummond wrote. "It would merely allow the state a chance to try to secure a conviction that comports with due process and the most basic commitments of our law."

Glossip is represented by Amy P. Knight, Joseph J. Perkovich and John Robert Mills of Phillips Black Inc., Warren Gotcher of Gotcher & Beaver and Donald R. Knight.

Oklahoma is represented by Gentner F. Drummond and Garry M. Gaskins II of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office and Paul D. Clement and Matthew D. Rowen of Clement & Murphy PLLC

The case is Glossip v. Oklahoma, case number 22-7466, in the U.S. Supreme Court.

--Editing by Nicole Bleier.

Update: This story has been updated with additional information.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!