The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will review the case of an Oklahoma man on death row who may have been wrongfully convicted, a decision the Oklahoma City archbishop says could help further respect for “the dignity of life” for all people.

Richard Glossip was first convicted in 1998 for allegedly ordering a handyman at a motel Glossip managed to murder the motel’s owner. Glossip was largely convicted on the handyman’s testimony.

Since his initial conviction, two independent investigations have uncovered serious problems with his trial, including allegations of police misconduct and what were reportedly incorrect instructions given to the jury in the case.

The state of Oklahoma previously admitted error and asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) to overturn Glossip’s conviction and grant him a new trial, but that court refused to do so and ordered Glossip’s execution to proceed. 

Writing to the Supreme Court justices in May 2023, Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond said that “based on careful review of new information that has come to light, including a report by an independent counsel appointed by the state, Glossip’s capital sentence cannot be sustained.” The Supreme Court subsequently granted a stay of Glossip’s execution, overruling the OCCA. 

In an order Jan. 22, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the state of Oklahoma violated Glossip’s constitutional rights when prosecutors suppressed evidence that their key witness was under a psychiatrist’s care, SCOTUSBlog reported. If the Supreme Court follows its usual practices, it will hear arguments in the case starting in October, the New York Times reported. 

Archbishop: Court’s review ‘offers hope’

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who often speaks out against the death penalty, said in a statement to CNA that the Supreme Court’s agreement to review Glossip’s case “offers hope in furthering the cause toward one day abolishing the death penalty.”

“With new evidence and the state of Oklahoma’s admission of errors in the case prompting the Supreme Court review — issues that seem to be more and more prevalent — we can clearly see reason to reconsider institutionalized violence against the incarcerated as we hopefully move to respect the dignity of life for all human persons,” Coakley told CNA. 

More in US

Since 1976, when the Supreme Court effectively reinstated the death penalty in the U.S., Oklahoma has recorded the highest number of executions per capita, according to Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), a national advocacy organization that demonstrates against the death penalty. 

Glossip was party to a previous lawsuit that made it to the Supreme Court in 2015, wherein the court ultimately ruled in favor of the continued use of the sedative midazolam, a drug that critics contended had caused excruciating pain in several controversial state executions in Ohio, Arizona, and Oklahoma. 

Glossip had argued along with two other inmates that midazolam was not certain to work properly and could result in a painful execution that violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267). The change reflects a development in Catholic doctrine in recent years. 

St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” The bishops of the United States have spoken frequently in favor of life sentences for convicted murderers, even those who have committed heinous crimes.