OKLAHOMA CITY — Since July, Richard Glossip has been listening to renovations inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. The noise is a constant reminder that his days are numbered.
Glossip, 51, is scheduled to be the second inmate executed under new procedures for lethal injections in Oklahoma, and in a newly renovated chamber.
Convicted in a murder-for-hire plot, he lives on death row in a small cell that he says is beneath the execution chamber.
The state’s execution policies are so new that they are still being drafted, and prison officials haven’t been trained yet. Glossip writes that he can only speculate what his last days will be like under the new rules and how he’ll die come Nov. 20.
“They have moved the execution table … so that they could put a window in the door where the person administering the drug’s, so that if an inmate starts flopping they can give them a little more muscle (relaxant) to stop it,” he wrote in a July 24 letter to a reporter. “They think it makes it better, but that is not true, even though your muscles are relaxed, you will still be suffocating and will still feel it.”
Death row has been on a media lockdown with in-person interviews prohibited since the clumsy execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29. Corrections officials explain that the blackout was necessary pending the investigation, ordered by Gov. Mary Fallin, into why it took Lockett about 40 minutes to die by lethal injection.
The investigation by the Department of Public Safety ultimately found that an IV tube, meant to deliver deadly drugs, had become dislodged from Lockett’s groin area.
In the meantime, Glossip has communicated by letters, attempting to get his story told and convince others of his innocence.
Glossip’s execution is one of three being scheduled by the state, starting in November. He’s been on death row since 1998, when he was convicted in a plot that killed Barry Van Treese, a motel owner, the year before. The convicted hit man, Justin Sneed, is serving a sentence of life without parole.
In his letters, Glossip claims his innocence. And, although there are many uncertainties about his future, he writes that he’s sure the state will make him suffer in his last moments, referring to Lockett’s execution.
“I truly have no doubt that it will go exactly as Lockett’s did,” he wrote. “The drugs they are using have not been tested, so they have no clue how a person is going to react to them. … To tell you the truth. I don’t believe there will be a humane way to execute anyone. No matter what drugs they use, there will always be side effects that cause inmates to suffer a prolonged and painful death.”
Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, had no comment about Glossip’s assertions. Prison officials plan to be ready for Glossip’s execution, he said, and are on track to have the new policies drafted and turned over to the state’s attorney general for review within the next two weeks.
After experiencing a shortage of the drug more typically used in lethal injections, Oklahoma chose a lethal cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride to execute inmates. Its use of midazolam has been heavily criticized by death penalty opponents since Lockett’s death, and in the aftermath of a 26-minute execution involving the same drug in Ohio and another that lasted nearly two hours in Arizona.
Glossip wrote that he closely monitored the Arizona case.
“The reporter who witnessed the execution put it the right way,” he wrote. “It was like taking a fish out of water and throwing it on land. It is bad enough that the guy (I know his crimes were bad) had to suffer for so long, then you have people saying it was a just punishment.”
Oklahoma corrections officials haven’t said what drugs they plan to use, citing pending litigation filed on behalf of death row inmates.
The attorney general’s office, which is handling all the appeals connected to Glossip’s case, believes justice will be served by his execution, said Aaron Cooper, the office’s director of communications, in a statement.
Cooper noted a 27-page ruling by the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2007 that outlined the facts of the case while rejecting Glossip’s appeals. Glossip was tried twice; he received a new trial after an appeals court found issues with his first.
He was twice convicted and twice sentenced to death.
“The state and the attorney general’s office will continue its work to ensure the sentence handed down by a jury for this heinous crime is carried out so that justice can be served for the family of Barry Van Treese,” Cooper said.
Jurors found that Glossip hired Sneed to kill Van Treese, who owned the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Glossip had managed the motel for two years.
Van Treese had discovered money was missing. Family members said Van Treese, 54, planned to confront Glossip and was about to fire him.
Sneed told jurors that he killed Van Treese with a baseball bat because Glossip offered him money to do it. Then the two tried to cover up the death.
Prosecutors said Sneed worked in maintenance at the motel, in exchange for a place to stay, and was dependent on Glossip.
Glossip has denied all involvement in the crime. He claims that Sneed took a deal and then lied about Glossip’s involvement to save himself from the death penalty.
He insists that there’s no evidence beyond Sneed’s word linking him to the murder.
Glossip said 17 years have been taken from him, although the worst part has been the isolation of death row: “The isolation that inmates have to face here on H-Unit until they are executed is horrible. It’s like you are already in (your) tomb waiting for your death to complete it.”
Janelle Stecklein is the Oklahoma state reporter for CNHI. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.