Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
As Michiganians, we are blessed to live in a State that does not kill in the name of its own citizens. Long before any of us stood upon this earth, our great-grandfathers gathered as state legislators and concluded that God—and not the State—had the sole authority to choose between life and death. That conclusion was later enshrined in our state constitution, where it remains to this day.
But not all States have similar histories.
Last night, the State of Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner. Kelly was convicted of soliciting her lover to murder her husband. There did not appear to be any genuine question concerning Kelly’s guilt. There was overwhelming evidence that she was the mastermind behind the murder plot. One of my primary concerns with Kelly’s case pertained to the sheer arbitrariness with which the death penalty is imposed in Georgia. Even if Kelly was 100 percent guilty, the fact remains that a life was taken by the State.
This afternoon, the State of Oklahoma prepares to execute Richard Glossip. Like Kelly, Richard was convicted of soliciting someone else to commit a murder. The State of Oklahoma insists that Richard solicited Justin Sneed, a motel maintenance worker, to kill the owner of the motel where Richard worked as a night manager. The alleged motive? It was to prevent the motel owner from discovering that Richard (or some other employee) had been embezzling money.
Sneed ultimately confessed to the murder (after first giving several differing accounts to the police), agreed to testify that Richard had put him up to it (after being coached by police interrogators), and received a prison sentence. Richard maintained his innocence and stated that he had not been involved. Nonetheless, Richard was convicted by two different juries and sentenced to death.
The only evidence connecting Richard to the embezzlement or murder was the testimony of Sneed—given under a deal to avoid lethal injection. Sneed’s account to the police changed at least four times. Sneed was later overheard by a fellow inmate—who has submitted a sworn affidavit describing the conversation—stating that he framed Richard for the crime. Sneed’s own daughter has written to the Oklahoma Board of Parole & Pardons stating that her father fabricated the story out of fear of the death penalty, and that she is “sure” that Richard did not hire her father to carry out the killing. At least one juror from Richard’s first trial has come forward to say that she would not have voted to convict if she had known about the wildly changing nature of Sneed’s stories to the police.
Yet the State of Oklahoma eagerly waits to kill Richard this afternoon.
The bottom line is this, my friends: There are bad people in the world who do terrible, heinous things. Even I will admit that prison seems too good and too easy for many of these monsters. But we simply do not know if Richard is one of them. The process failed Richard. While our system might be designed to find and reveal the closest approximation of the truth in each case, it does not always work as intended. It is a system of men, and perfection is not a human trait. No judge, juror, police office, prosecutor, witness, or defense attorney is always right.
If we are to continue our experiment with capital punishment in this country, we must accept the certainty that innocent people will be put to death. There is no way to avoid it. Even precision engineering does not result in fail-safe machines. The machinery of our criminal justice system will never be as perfect or exact as we would like to imagine.
Late this afternoon, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued Executive Order 2015-42, temporarily staying the execution of Richard Glossip for 37 days so state officials can determine how they ordered the wrong lethal-injection drug (potassium acetate rather than potassium chloride) and to give them time to order the correct chemical compound. The new date set for Richard Glossip's execution is Friday, November 6, 2015.