Rationality and any legal system in the world can conflict and contradict, and they often do, and that’s why we always need advocacy and agitation for clarity and equilibrium.
Take this nation’s myriad of current drug laws on a state-by-state basis, for example, which leads to some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The war on drugs by most anyone’s rational estimation has failed, leaving a vast trail of broken lives and misery. Meanwhile, because of advocacy and rationality Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana.
People cling to legalities and rules often blindly because they’re afraid to admit to the ambiguity that underpins our very lives. Yet when it comes to the law, an important aspect of our lives, jurors can get it wrong, prosecutors and police can let a zealous thirst for a conviction cloud their judgment and judges can let it all unfold in a bizarre trajectory because they are paralyzed by “tough-on-crime” politics in a conservative state.
Perhaps, this is a long-winded manner in which to begin another discussion of the Richard Glossip case. The state of Oklahoma is scheduled to put Glossip to death by lethal injection Sept. 16. He was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder in the death of his then boss Barry Van Treese at an Oklahoma City motel.
Let me stress this: It has never been alleged that Glossip actually killed anyone. This is the fact that defies rationality in this legal case yet it doesn’t get stated often enough. Glossip has never been accused of actually killing anyone in a physical sense.
While actress Susan Sarandon and Sister Helen Prejean, two anti-death penalty advocates, have rightly made impassioned pleas to save Glossip’s life, their focus has been on the presentation of new evidence that could actually exonerate Glossip.
But time is running out on Glossip, and those who could actually save his life have consistently shown an aversion to rationality and ambiguity in the larger frame of this legal case. Gov. Mary Fallin, for example, has continued to point out that not one but two juries have found Glossip guilty and given him the death penalty.
Said Fallin, in a recent statement, “Richard Glossip has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death by two juries. His conviction and death sentence have been reviewed and upheld by four courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. His actions directly led to the brutal murder of a husband and a father of seven children. The state of Oklahoma is prepared to hold him accountable for his crimes and move forward with his scheduled execution.”
In other words, the law, whether applied rationally or not in this case, must take precedence, but rational people can only repeat, “Richard Glossip has never been accused of physically killing anyone.” He was accused of asking Justin Sneed to commit the murder for money, and, indeed, Sneed has admitted to killing Van Treese. For his testimony in the case, Sneed received life in prison rather than the death penalty. Any rational person would obviously argue that Sneed had a vested interest in giving such testimony.
Are there cases in which murder suspects should receive the ultimate sentence for ordering a killing? One might make this argument if such a suspect was a leader of a syndicated crime network or involved in terrorist activities, but those exceptions-and I’m against the death penalty in general-simply don’t apply in this case.
Rationality would dictate Glossip’s sentence be formally commuted to life in prison, and then if he has evidence exonerating himself, he can present it. Even if Glossip asked Sneed to kill Van Treese, Sneed had the option of backing out and informing the authorities.
The facts of the case, widely discussed in the media, are fairly straightforward. Glossip was a manager of a motel owned by Van Treese in 1997. It was alleged that Van Treese was going to confront Glossip on some financial matters related to the motel and consequently Glossip supposedly asked Sneed, a handyman at the motel, to kill Van Treese, which Sneed admitted he did by beating him with a baseball bat. Glossip has maintained his innocence in the case and has declined plea agreements that would have spared him the death penalty.
In the end, it pretty much comes down to the word of someone who admits beating a man to death and had a stark vested interest to implicate another person in the death to save his own life. Rationality, not the law, tells us that in this case it seems prudent to act cautiously and not kill Richard Glossip, who didn’t physically kill another person, who has never been accused of physically killing another person and who has maintained his innocence for 18 years.