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Death row inmate Glossip, spine surgeon, medical marijuana top 2015 story list

Steve Browne / Red Dirt Report
Josh Smith and Mark Smith show support for their uncle, Richard Glossip, outside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on Sept. 30, 2015.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article recaps some of the top stories Red Dirt Report covered during 2015. By no means is this an exhaustive list. We promise our readers we will continue to follow most of these stories and cover new ones in 2016.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Death row inmate Richard Glossip and two last-minute stays of execution proved to be Red Dirt Report’s top story in 2015.

Glossip faced execution by lethal injection twice in September, but each time he received a reprieve.

The first occurred on Sept. 16 as the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals authorized a two-week stay based on new evidence submitted by his legal team. Two weeks later, Glossip faced death again after all possible appeals had been exhausted, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, a mix-up of the lethal three-drug cocktail forced Gov. Mary Fallin to authorize a 37-day stay of execution so state officials could investigate the botched procedure. Fallin later issued an executive order halting all executions indefinitely until the investigation had been completed and a thorough review of the drug mix-up.

Fallin issued the stay because the Department of Corrections notified her office it received potassium acetate, rather than potassium chloride, for Glossip’s execution. Potassium chloride is the final legal injection drug in the DOC’s protocol, preceded by the sedative midazolam and paralytic rocuronium bromide. It is supposed to stop the inmate’s heart.

Then-DOC Director Robert Patton said the supplier provided the alternative drug without notifying the department beforehand. According to Patton, it was the supplier’s opinion that potassium acetate and potassium chloride were medically interchangeable.

Then-DOC Director Robert Patton addresses the media, informing them of Gov. Mary Fallin's decision to grant a stay for death-row inmate Richard Glossip. (Steve Browne / Red Dirt Report)

The executions for two other inmates scheduled to die in 2015 also were put on hold.

The drug issue and Glossip’s case reignited the fight over capital punishment. Although many Oklahomans (69 percent) support the death penalty, a recent poll showed more people are changing their minds due to exonerations, botched executions and inability of some states, including Oklahoma, to acquire the deadly drug combo.

As of September 2011, 273 people, including 17 Oklahoma death row inmates have been exonerated by use of DNA tests, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The same survey shows that in one year opposition to capital punishment in Oklahoma has doubled – from 12 percent in 2014 to 24 percent in 2015.

Another poll released in mid-November shows 52 percent of Oklahomans support the idea of sentencing a murder defendant to life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty.

Anagnost battle continues

Tulsa spine surgeon Steven Anagnost continued his legal battle against the Oklahoma Medical Licensure and Supervision Board in 2015. Anagnost sued the board, several competing Tulsa spine surgeons and medical malpractice attorneys who he claims conspired against him to take away his medical license.

Although his license was never suspended or revoked, Anagnost claims the group’s continued attacks lasted three years without any justification.

His lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court is pending.

During 2015, a legislative hearing hosted by state Rep. Richard Morrissette (D-Oklahoma City) revealed intended attacks by the board on Anagnost. Internal emails and other communications obtained by Red Dirt Report shows competing physicians and staff members at the board had plans to take away Anagnost’s license at any cost.

In June 2015, the competing spine surgeons sought to prevent damaging emails and other critical information from being used as part of the pending lawsuit. The physicians claim Anagnost obtained the information illegally during a meeting at the Oklahoma Bar Association and should not be allowed as evidence when the trial begins. No trial date has been set in the case.

Anagnost countered he and his attorneys at the time were invited to the OBA office to review documents and answer questions in connection with an investigation involving three medical malpractice attorneys with direct connections to the medical board. The probe centered on conflicts of interest and allegations the attorneys used confidential information from complaints filed against Anagnost in later lawsuits. The three attorneys - Gary L. Brooks, Randy Sullivan and Daniel B. Graves – are listed as plaintiffs in Anagnost’s lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County District Court. At the time the complaints were filed, Brooks was a medical board member and Sullivan served as a prosecutor for the board. Graves was hired as a special prosecutor during the board’s inquiry into the complaints against Anagnost.

Go to Red Dirt Report’s home page and click on the Anagnost Battles Medical Board link to see all of our coverage from 2015.

Medical marijuana

Oklahoma legislators passed a measure in 2015 that allowed the combination of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and cannabis oil (CBD) to be used on minor patients with seizures in a clinical setting.

The bill was approved in May and signed by Fallin. It allows a maximum of 0.3 percent THC along with the cannabis oil.

In December, Red Dirt Report interviewed three mothers whose children were suffering from debilitating seizure disorders. In those interviews, each mother revealed their child has made remarkable progress with the combination, which most people commonly refer to as medical marijuana.

Prior to the bill’s passage, other Oklahoma families were forced to leave the state to seek legal medical marijuana treatment in other states like Colorado and Washington.

State Rep. Jon Echols, who co-sponsored the bill, said he will try to expand the measure’s coverage by allowing adult seizure patients and patients with other disabling diseases, to use the THC-CBD combination in a clinical setting.

All of the mothers interviewed said they will support such a measure.

More top stories

Michael Carnuccio and Gov. Mary Fallin read the Ten Commandments monolith at its new home on the grounds of the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

In 2015, Red Dirt Report covered other stories ranging from racist songs sung at a University of Oklahoma fraternity and the fallout which reached national levels to a state budget that produced a $600 million shortfall.

Officials already have said the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, will be worse with a $900 million shortfall.

The Ten Commandments became a top topic as the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the biblical display could not remain on the state Capitol grounds. The decision created a backlash against the court with Fallin and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt vowing to fight the ruling. Eventually, the monument was removed and placed nine blocks to the south at the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs.

In addition, Fallin’s office refused to release records sought by a news organization and a non-profit, leading to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of the Oklahoma Observer and nursing home advocate Wes Bledsoe. The case is pending in Oklahoma County District Court.

Presidential candidates, including Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, made their way to the state in 2015. Trump appeared at the Oklahoma State Fair and riled up his GOP faithful with unflattering remarks about Hispanics, a trend that has continued throughout the presidential race. Oklahoma City also was the site of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in June with several Republican candidates, including Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, attending.

Former President Bill Clinton came to Oklahoma City in April for the 20th anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building bombing that killed 168 people on April 19, 1995.

Former Pres. Bill Clinton on the 20th anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building bombing. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Civil asset forfeiture became a story when state Sen. Kyle Loveless introduced legislation in May to reform the system, which currently allows law enforcement agencies to seize property and money from innocent motorists without a reason. Loveless’ bill would require a criminal conviction before property and money could be permanently confiscated. The current system requires the property owner to prove to a judge the property and money was not used in the commission of a crime. Loveless railed against the system, creating an ongoing controversy with local and state law enforcement agencies. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has, on more than one occasion, called Loveless a liar. The measure will be considered in the 2016 legislative session.

OKC stories

MAPS 3 projects, including the convention center and the street car, were stalled because of failed negotiations and disagreements with suppliers.

Arguments over tax increment financing were commonplace on the city council with Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid and Ward 4 Councilman Pete White questioning the value of giving taxpayer money to large corporations. More TIF funds are expected to be given to at least two more large companies in 2016.

Red Dirt Report was the only news organization that reported on the companies that funded Mayor Mick Cornett’s documentary “Oklahoma City: The Boom, the Bust, the Bomb.” Several corporations that routinely appear before the Oklahoma City Council provided large-scale financial donations for the documentary directed and produced by Cornett and his video production company.

Oklahoma City real estate mogul Richard Tanenbaum was one of 12 sponsors listed on the film’s website. Others, such as Devon Energy, declined to comment for the story. Sources told Red Dirt Report at the time that several of the large corporations contributed at least $100,000 to Cornett’s film.

Cornett never returned phone calls for comment.

One of the most disturbing stories of 2015 occurred when people claiming to be Christians protested Muslims at the Capitol Day in February. Hateful comments were shouted at Muslims as they entered the Capitol and threatening signs were held up urging the Muslims to leave the U.S. Extra security was provided as Muslims and non-Muslims participated in the day’s events.

A protester outside the Oklahoma State Capitol during Muslim Day, held in February. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

As 2015 came to a close, the Chickasaw Nation stepped up and provided a solution to the never-ending saga of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, which remains half-built on land near I-35 and Eastern Avenue. The Chickasaw Nation offered to provide Oklahoma City with $2 million a year for seven years while becoming a partner in the project.

The cultural center has been a source of contention between state and city officials and seemed destined to fail as a tourist attraction. Oklahoma City will decide in 2016 if it wants to accept the Chickasaw Nation offer. The AICCM originally was a state project but became too expensive, so legislators passed a measure in the 2015 legislative session that would give Oklahoma City control of the project. The agreement also would allow the state to recoup its investment from bonds that were issued to finance the center.

Tragedy strikes

One of the most tragic stories occurred when Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello was stabbed to death by his son Christian in a Braum’s parking lot. The labor commissioner was popular and well-liked by Republicans and Democrats.

Remembering Labor Commissioner Mark Costello at the State Capitol in August 2015. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Christian Costello was arrested and later charged with first-degree murder. His case is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court. The defendant was known to have mental health issues prior to the stabbing.

Another tragic story in 2015 continued to be the way nursing home patients are treated by employees.

In one particular story, nursing home resident John Martin told Red Dirt Report about the horror he endured while living two years at Stillwater’s Grace Living Center, a nursing home replete with employees who left him lying in his feces and routinely ignored his pleas for a shower. Martin also told Red Dirt Report about verbal abuse and malnutrition he endured while there.

Martin was later transferred to another nursing home that Red Dirt Report agreed not to disclose.

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About the Author

Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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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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