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 Drummond remarks on clemency denial for Glossip

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 26, 2023) – Attorney General Gentner Drummond said he is disappointed the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted today against recommending clemency for Richard Glossip despite evidence he failed to receive a fair trial in 2004. The 2-2 board vote means clemency is not recommended for the death row inmate.

Earlier this month, Drummond had asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate Glossip’s murder conviction and remand the case back to Oklahoma County District Court. His decision came after ordering an independent review of a case that had long been plagued by doubts and controversy. The court rejected the Attorney General’s motion April 20.

Drummond said he took the unprecedented step of speaking on behalf of clemency today only after an exhaustive review of the case.

“Public confidence in the death penalty requires that these cases receive the highest standard of reliability,” he said. “While the State has not questioned the integrity of previous death penalty cases, the Glossip conviction is very different. I believe it would be a grave injustice to execute an individual whose trial conviction was beset by a litany of errors.”

Glossip has been on Oklahoma’s death row for 25 years. He was initially charged with accessory to murder on Jan. 15, 1997, after the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese. A co-worker of Glossip’s confessed to beating Van Treese to death in an Oklahoma City motel room. As part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, the co-worker testified that Glossip offered to pay him for the killing. 

As a result, Glossip was charged and eventually convicted of first-degree murder in 1998. The co-worker, who was the prosecution’s key witness against Glossip, was convicted and received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. 

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later overturned Glossip’s conviction for ineffective assistance of counsel. He was convicted and sentenced to death again at a 2004 retrial. 

With the Glossip case shrouded in controversy, Drummond began seeking answers shortly after taking office. He quickly learned that the State had long withheld a box of materials from Glossip’s defense team. Drummond promptly provided access to those materials, referred to as “Box 8,” and appointed an independent counsel to conduct a comprehensive review of the case. Box 8, and the findings from that review, formed much of the basis for the State’s motion to vacate the conviction and remand the case to district court. 

“My heart truly hurts for the Van Treese family and what they have experienced over the past 26 years,” Drummond said. “It has been my privilege and honor to visit with them a number of times since my taking office. The grief and frustration they have endured is unfathomable and deeply unfortunate.”

In a separate letter to the Pardon and Parole Board, Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna noted that current guidelines in her office ensure the death penalty is reserved for “the most egregious of cases” such as those involving mass casualties or when the defendant has a history of violence and would likely pose a threat even while incarcerated.

“I believe it is important for the Pardon and Parole Board to know that Mr. Glossip’s case would not qualify for the death penalty in Oklahoma County under these new guidelines,” Behenna wrote.