Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond this week asked the Supreme Court to halt the execution of a condemned man whose death sentence has been criticized by an archbishop and other Catholic advocates. 

Drummond announced the filing on his website on Tuesday. In his petition to the Supreme Court the attorney general detailed “why the execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip should be halted and his conviction remanded back to district court.”

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. Prosecutors had also reportedly failed to correct false testimony in Glossip’s trial. 

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Glossip’s death sentence in April of last year, even though the state had previously admitted error and asked the appeals court to overturn the sentence. Drummond called that decision “remarkable and remarkably flawed.”

By “dismissing this extraordinary confession by the state,” Drummond’s office said this week, the appeals court engaged in a “flawed whitewashing of federal constitutional violations.”

The court should “vacate the judgment of conviction and order a new trial” for Glossip, Drummond’s filing said. 

Archbishop: Court’s review ‘offers hope’

The U.S. Supreme Court announced in January that it would review Glossip’s case. At the time, Oklahoma Archbishop Paul Coakley told CNA that the high court’s decision “offers hope in furthering the cause toward one day abolishing the death penalty.”

More in US

“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. 

The Death Penalty Information Center says on its website that Oklahoma has the highest number of executions per capita of any U.S. state since the death penalty’s reinstitution in 1976. It is second only to Texas in total number of inmates put to death.

Glossip’s case has drawn support from other anti-death penalty Catholics. Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said last year that Glossip “should not be put to death … not ever.” 

“No state should have the power to take the lives of its citizens,” she said at the time. “As we see in Mr. Glossip’s case, the system is too broken, too cruel, too disrespecting of human dignity."

“We give thanks to God that Richard Glossip has been granted a temporary stay of execution,” Vaillancourt Murphy said shortly thereafter, “and we pray the Supreme Court decides to formally take up his case.”

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).

St. John Paul II, meanwhile, called the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary” and encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life.” 

(Story continues below)

The former pope argued that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.”

This is not the first time Glossip’s case has been to the highest court in the land. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in Glossip v. Gross ruled that lethal injections using midazolam to kill prisoners on death row do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.