The death penalty is one of the heaviest judgments our judicial system can mete out. As one of the highest punishments, there ought be very high expectations for the certainty of guilt and the legitimacy of the process that gave rise to the conclusions of culpability. Except for felony murder, apparently. Besides that niche area of “justice” that literally no other part of the world enforces, when the sureness of deserving a death sentence goes from beyond a reasonable doubt to a maybe or probably not, there is a opportunity to think about the worth of the entire process. Richard Gossip’s developing cases are one of those times. From Reuters:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday halted the scheduled execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip, whose cause drew support from the state’s Republican attorney general after an investigation shed new light on evidence relating to the 1997 murder Glossip was convicted of commissioning.
In an unusual twist in a death penalty case, Glossip on April 6 gained backing from Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who said the findings of an independent counsel he tapped to examine the case had “cast doubt on the conviction.”
“After thorough and serious deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip,” Drummond said in a statement announcing he would file a motion that day urging an Oklahoma appeals court to vacate the conviction and return the case to the federal district court.
And as important as it is to celebrate this victory for Glossip, this would also be a phenomenal time for us to think about the costs of maintaining the death penalty. Let’s not forget that Glossip isn’t just some dude. This guy has had three last meals. Three of them. Not to mention that this isn’t the first time his life was before the Supreme Court — it was his case where the Supreme Court decided that lethal injections do not count as cruel and unusual punishment. Knowing that there’s a guy who’s been on death row for over 20 years, was almost killed by the state three times, that state recognizing that there wasn’t really enough good evidence to murder a man in the name of justice, having to run through bureaucratic hoops and beg the highest court to do something about it should cast doubt and uneasiness over the entire process. The process, as AG Richard Drummond has shared, is what is at stake here:
“This is not to say I believe he is innocent. However, it is critical that Oklahomans have absolute faith that the death penalty is administered fairly and with certainty,” Drummond added.
And I think that he’s right. The catch is that absolute faith in fairness and certainty is a very high bar:
We know that Glossip could have easily been #191. He’s not entirely out of hot water — he has two issues still on appeal. But he at least has a chance. We have no way of knowing how many people, maybe in similar situations as Glossip, weren’t lucky enough to have a state AG (or a Reed Smith team of 30 attorneys willing to devote about 3,700 pro bono hours) that gave enough of a damn to re-comb through the record.
Supreme Court halts execution of Oklahoma inmate Richard Glossip [Reuters]
Earlier: Despite Two Constitutional Violations During Trial, A Man Was Sentenced To Die. Will The Supreme Court Act?
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.