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Oklahoma bungles another planned execution, Glossip dodges death - again

Steve Browne / Red Dirt Report
Josh Smith (center) believes his uncle Richard Glossip is innocent of hiring Justin Sneed, now serving life in a medium-security prison, to murder his employer Barry Van Treese.
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Red Dirt Report's Steve Browne offers this first-hand account of covering the (botched) execution of death-row inmate Richard Glossip.

McALESTER, Okla. -- Wednesday morning was grey and overcast outside the gates of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, when Richard Glossip appeared to have finally run out of time after two delays of execution.

Glossip’s family and supporters put their hopes on an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but time was running out.

As the media waited for the guards to admit the press, Red Dirt Report asked Glossip’s attorney Don Knight, what he expected.

“I don’t have any expectations,” Knight said. “I’ve learned not to expect anything. I will deal with what comes.”

Brothers Josh (left) and Mark Smith came to show their support for and firm belief in the innocence of their uncle Richard Glossip on Wednesday. (Steve Browne / Red Dirt Report)

Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean kept her hopes up.

“As long as he is alive,” Prejean said. “It’s absolute victory or absolute loss. The cert petition (certiorari) is strong.

According to Prejean the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had by a three to two decision essentially said the defense should have filed earlier and they were just rehashing old stuff.

Prejean disagrees and said more and more evidence is being uncovered about the character of Justin Sneed, who killed Barry Van Treese one day in 1997 and won himself a life sentence in a medium security prison by implicating Glossip as the man who planned the murder.

“But Richard had poor council,” Prejean said. “They didn’t need to introduce Richard into the scenario. Sneed was always robbing and doing meth.”

At 10:30 a.m. the guards opened the gates to admit the media.

BEHIND THE GATES

“Steve Browne, Red Dirt Report,” I tell the guard checking names off the list of media representatives.

“Anyone else in your group?” the guard asks.

“Just me,” I said.

“Follow that vehicle when he gets about half-way down,” he tells me.

“Park opposite the media center.”

Inside we get our press badges and media information packets from Department of Corrections Director of Communications Terri Watkins.

At 11:30 a.m. all access to the building is closed. Only those registered and present are allowed in, and will not be allowed to leave until our business is finished.

About this time I find my cell phone has no coverage in the area, adding to the feeling of isolation I feel even in the middle of the crowded press room.

Inside the media center there are cookies and coffee, which seems odd on such a somber occasion.

Watkins informs us when pictures would be allowed, where not to point our cameras, and asks us not to take pictures of inmates working around the grounds.

“We don’t have those media permission slips from them,” Watkins said.

At 1 p.m.the gates are closed. No one else will be allowed in until the affair is concluded one way or another.

At 2:15 p.m. Watkins informed us there might be a delay. The execution was scheduled for 3:00 p.m.

“We have not heard from the U.S. Supreme Court so there has not been any kind of movement within the facility,” Watkins said. “This is normally the time witnesses go to the viewing chamber.”

At 2:55 p.m. I heard some muttering from crew who’d gotten some text messages.

“Stay denied,” I heard.

Formal confirmation from Watkins comes soon after.

Watkins has all the reporters in the room write their names on slips of paper. There are two drawings for five places in the witness chamber. One seat is reserved for the Associated Press, another for a reporter from the jurisdiction the crime was committed in.

Alex Gerszewski, Public Information Officer for the Oklahoma DOC draws a slip. The second seat goes to Ali Meyer from KFOR. The names go back into the basket, this time with all other media representatives to draw for the remaining three seats.

I am both disappointed and relieved my name is not drawn.

Those chosen are given another badge, “Execution Witness.”

Three o’clock comes and goes and the bus to take the witnesses to the execution chamber has still not arrived. Nobody seems to know anything.

Watkins and Gerszewski leave briefly and return.

Watkins nods to Gerszewski.

“Governor Fallin has granted a 37 day stay of execution,” Gerszewski said. ”We have press releases.”

The press release says something about potassium acetate and the need to determine if it meets the state’s criteria for execution.

This is odd. The life-taker of the three-drug execution cocktail is potassium chloride, chemical formula KCl. It’s a common salt, easily available and harmless unless a strong solution is injected intravenously.

Then it stops the heart.

About ten minutes later Oklahoma DOC Director Robert Patton comes in to officially confirm the stay. Patton tersely informs us that there are no plans to stay the execution of two other death row inmates scheduled to die in October, and there will be no questions taken.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton tersely announced Gov. Mary Falllin had granted a 37-day stay of execution for Richard Glossip but permitted no questions. (Steve Browne / Red Dirt Report)

Patton leaves amid a storm of questions.

“We only found out five minutes before we walked into this room,” Watkins said.

JUBILATION, FOLLOWING "FUCK UP"

Outside the sun has finally come out. Jubilation reigns among Glossip’s family and supporters.I take a picture of a young man with a T-shirt that says, “Help save an innocent man” who turns out to be Glossip’s nephew Josh Smith, who is there with his brother Mark Smith.

“Mary Fallin got a lot of respect,” Mark Smith said. “If not for her Richard would be with the Lord right now.”

I ask them about Justin Sneed.

“Once he was like part of the family,” Mark Smith said. “Richard trusted Sneed and gave him a job when nobody else would and he screwed him around. How can anybody believe him when he can’t even look you in the eye?”

Knight said the family thought Richard was already dead when they got the news.

Glossip’s longtime friend Kim Van Atta somehow gets Glossip on the phone.

“What the hell’s happening?” Glossip demands.

“Richard, they fucked up the drug!” Van Atta shouts jubilantly.

Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean listens while Richard Glossip's long-time friend Kim Van Atta tells him why he didn't die on Wednesday. (Steve Browne / Red Dirt Report)

I can’t resist, I must ask Sister Prejean.

“Sister, this is more your area than mine but…”

“You want to ask about the divine intervention thing,” Prejean said with a grin. “The irony is that Oklahoma mucked it up. Potassium acetate is a food preservative, and a food preservative preserved Richard’s life.”

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Steve Browne

Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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