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I have 33 years of experience in criminal defense, with the last 15 years doing death penalty work.
Oklahoma is preparing to execute an innocent man named Richard Glossip that I know there have been many discussions here on Reddit about.
If you're interested in learning more, Ian Woods of Sky News is doing a serial podcast about Richard Glossip and his quest for exoneration.
We got 250,000 signatures on a moveon petition; that was nice, but we didn't get anything for it. How does social media (chiefly, Reddit) drive this?
Right now we have an indefinite stay of execution and I'm worried about this case withering on the vine. How do we keep it in the public eye?
I'm here at the Reddit HQ in SF with u/kn0thing who is showing me around the site and helping me with this AMA. Proof: https://twitter.com/reddit/status/651175716168462336
Edit: I'm going to go talk with some big shot tech moguls (or I'm sure they think of themselves that way) here at Reddit HQ, but I'll answer another few more questions when it wraps up! Thank you very much.
Do you feel like this case would have gone this far if his court appointed attorneys were better / not overworked and able to sufficiently give each of their clients proper attention? *also please give Sister Helen Prejean a huge hug for us!
I'll be happy to give Sister Helen a hug if I can ever catch her!
And the court appointed lawyers in this case were horrible. Richard Glossip should have walked out of that courtroom a free man. He didn't because of their horrible representation.
What are the chances that he will be exonerated compared to similar cases?
There are not a lot of similar cases. Cases of innocence in death row cases are not common. There's a lot of work to be done and with luck and help from everyone (and that means you) we can win.
We need to get this on Dateline. Have you received any interest from mainstream media like Dateline or 60 Seconds? Maybe we can create a social media bomb on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook and demand the media cover this story?
Mainstream media has covered this case. It has been in the NYTimes on several occasions. CNN and MSNBC have interviewed me as well, but yes, I think it makes a great story for Dateline or 60 Minutes and I would look forward to having them cover the case as well.
Is there any other evidence that Glossip hired Sneed besides Sneed's testimony that ultimately reduced his sentence to 'Life in Prison' from death?
No. Not other than Sneed's testimony.
I..don't understand how this can be legal? Can you really charge someone and give them the death penalty when the only evidence is one person's word (who had incentive to lie)?
No. There needs to be some kind of corroborating evidence, however, it's pretty loose as to what constitutes corroborating evidence. In this case, Richard had $1200 cash on him. The prosecutor said this came from the murder even though there was no way to show that was true, but this is what constituted the corroborating evidence that was needed.
Do you not worry about talking so openly about how horrible were the services that legal team delivered to Glossip? Do they still practice?
There was a lot of work that was simply not done in the preparation of this case. Those are the facts. If those lawyers want to defend their work, I would invite them to do so.
In your view — is lethal injection a violation of the 8th amendment? Can you comment about your role in Glossip v. Gross and explain what the ramifications are for the new holding?
After the botched execution of Clayton Lockett is the State of Oklahoma actually competent to execute people using lethal injection?
For those unaware about the execution of Lockett:
>Lockett was administered an untested mixture of drugs that had not previously been used for executions in the United States. Although the execution was stopped, Lockett died 43 minutes after being sedated. He writhed, groaned, convulsed, and spoke during the process and attempted to rise from the execution table fourteen minutes into the procedure, despite having been declared unconscious.
I did not have a role in Glossip v. Gross, that was a team of lawyers dealing only with the lethal injection issue. My role has been to uncover evidence of innocence and present it to the court. The lethal injection litigation is ongoing, especially in light of what happened last Wednesday.
To answer the question about the 8th amendment, yes, I believe that all forms of state-sponsored-homicide violate the 8th amendment. After what I witnessed last Wednesday, after being with Richard and his family as we all thought he was being killed, I can tell you that it was cruel and unusual in every sense of the word.
Mr. Knight, does the box of destroyed evidence give Ricky any chance of appeal or grounds for anything such as new evidentiary hearing?
It is a big deal and we continue to look for ways to get this information in front of a court, however, we are at a stage in the process where many issues that could have been raised in courts are time-barred.
We hope we can find a way to get this information back in front of a court and we continue to look for ways to do so.
Where can we donate?
What has been the most difficult aspect of this case professionally, and personally?
The amount of time that I've had. I've tried to jam what should be about 18 months of work into 3 months of work. Personally, I've had to go to Oklahoma City.
With the recent cases of persons getting the death penalty and not actually pulling the trigger as in this case or Kelly Gissendanners how are they able to get this far in sentencing with the death penalty, but the actual persons that did the crime are getting away. Second, how can the testimony of the actual murderer be considered reliable, especially when that's about all the evidence?
Well, Justin Sneed is doing a life sentence (albeit in a medium security facility) so it's not as if he's getting away.
As to your second question, a jury decides who is reliable and who isn't. That's the job of a good lawyer, to expose the lies of someone such as Sneed.
What was your reaction when you heard Pope Francis & Richard Branson were supporting Glossip? Were you surprised?
I was not surprised with Pope Francis. Lord knows I would hope he would be on our side. I was very happy that Richard Branson would lend his support. Who wouldn't want Richard Branson to support them?
What would have to happen now for Fallin to extend the stay? National large corporate/business boycott outrage?
I hope that the government in Oklahoma recognizes that the entire world was watching as they were attempting to kill an innocent man. Despite that, they still made mistakes that should never have been made. If enough people contacted her donor base and express outrage over this attempt to kill an innocent man, I believe Governor Fallin would take notice.
I understand that the entire legal process is super expensive. Although you work pro bono, how is the defense being financed?
On average, how expensive were your cases in the past?
This case has been financed through donations made on Richard Glossip's behalf. The donations have gone for the hiring of investigators, the costs of travel, and investigation. The most important thing that people need to understand is that very few Americans can afford the cost of a death penalty trial. That is why they're almost always done by public defenders. And that's why rich people never get the death penalty.
So if Richard Glossip can be killed by the state, we can all be killed by the state--unless you're rich.
Have you ever found someone that you struggled to defend?
No. I believe everyone has the right to a great defense. Otherwise, we are all vulnerable.
Given that this is far from the first time Richard has been told he is going to die only to find out otherwise, is there a possibility of an Eighth Amendment claim for your team? It appears officials didn't communicate with him as much as they should have (or at all) about what was happening.
Also: what was it like to find out - after Richard had been scheduled to die - that he was granted a stay by the Governor (who refused multiple times to do so) because of a problem with the drugs the DOC received? What do you think of the DOC's explanations of what happened in the hours leading to the stay?
I think what happened to Richard last Wednesday was cruel and unusual in every sense of that term. The officials did not communicate with Richard about what was happening and they did not communicate with his lawyers about what was happening. We all thought between the hours of 3 and 4 that he was being killed.
I had to tell his family that there were no more appeals and that Richard was going to be killed. Their grief was bottomless.
When we found out that there was a stay, it was literally as if Richard had risen from the dead. Of course we were all joyous, but that takes nothing away from the trauma we all felt in that hour when we knew (or thought we knew) that he was being killed by the state.
I don't know what the explanation is for the drug mixup and I'm looking forward to finding out.
The main reaction I've been seeing from fellow Oklahomans is that he's guilty because he's been convicted not once, but twice. I personally don't believe the justice system is fool-proof, but when I try to explain this to those I have a discussion about this case with, that is their go-to answer. "He must be guilty because he's been convicted TWICE."
How do you, as his attorney, explain how an innocent man can be convicted twice for this crime?
Best of luck to you guys and Mr. Glossip. I know you guys have a difficult road ahead of you. I'm pulling for you guys!
The first trial was overturned on direct appeal due to ineffective assistance of counsel. Therefore, by its very nature, that trial did not count. There have been many people who have been exonerated even off of death row, who were convicted by a jury more than one time and yet these people were not guilty. It is not a stretch to have people receive trials and be found guilty and yet be innocent of the crime that they've just been convicted of. It comes down to how hard the lawyers have worked, how much money they've been given, and how much time they've had to prepare.
So you mean, this far down the road - chances are relatively slim?
It's very difficult. I believe we have presented evidence of innocence, which is not easy to do. We continue to investigate and we will find more evidence and we will present that to a court.
What made you decide to become a defense attorney?
Someone has to stand for people who have made mistakes and/or who the government is pursuing in a wrongful manner. Even though I hate wearing suits.
What advice can you give for a law student who is torn between accepting a summer internship with the public defender's office or a medmal firm? Im feeling an ethical calling to the PDs office- but the big money of tort law looks real nice...
What was it that made you want to be a lawyer in the first place? If it was money, go with the medmal firm. There's a lot of money there. Although, there's also a lot of good work to be done in that type of practice. If you want to do good work that helps a lot of people who really need help, i.e., poor people, be a PD. And then work your ass off.
My wife (who's wearing a Notorious R.B.G shirt) would like to know who is your favorite supreme court justice?
That's classic! Stephen Breyer, because he voted for a stay of execution for Richard Glossip. Also, read his dissent in Glossip V. Gross for a great discussion of why the death penalty is unconstitutional today.
> Stephen Breyer
Excellent choice! She's bookmarking his dissent for her evening reading after the kids are in bed!
Enjoy! Hurry before they make the movie!
What is the plan to get him exonerated? Is there any other way through the courts to help? Or would it just be a PR campaign to put pressure on. My opinion as a marketer would be a viral video or campaign of some sort that can easily be shared.
Yes. First, we're going to continue the investigation. As we uncover more evidence of innocence, we will be going back to court, but we also believe strongly that social media has a role to play and we want this case to get out to as many people as possible.
You say you're one of the pro bono attorneys. Are the other attorneys more fans of the edge?
Haha! Yes, I'm pro bono and Richard Branson parties with Bono. It sucks.
What do you think of the work of Maya Foa in trying to disrupt the access to drugs used in lethal injections?
I think she's done a great job. Due to efforts like hers, I believe that lethal injection is on its way out. Doctors already do not want to perform this function, because it's against what doctors do. I believe that if we can get rid of this fallacy that the death penalty can be done cleanly and painlessly, more people would be revolted by it and it would end.
Besides this one, is there one or two cases you've had as a public defender that have stuck with you? Successes (or failures / particularly difficult cases) that continue to push you to do what you do? Can you tell us a little about them?
That's a tough question to answer in a short period of time.
My successes have come through really hard work. When you are asked to represent someone who will die if you're not successful, it's a terrible burden. It's the thought that my client might someday be killed that keeps me going. I never want to let that happen. And thankfully, to date, it hasn't.
What are the next steps? How do you open the case again for new evidence or witnesses?
We continue to investigate, we do not need a court to do that. And as we get new evidence, we will pursue the options that become available.
Do you feel like Mary Fallin's reasoning behind the stay of execution (questions around the protocol of lethal injection) is skirting around the issue?
I think the problems that arose prior to the execution date regarding the drugs that Oklahoma had in its possession violated the protocol and were a valid reason for the stay. I hope that an honest investigation is conducted and we can all find out what actually happened with the drugs in the 48 hours leading up to the execution date.
Why do you believe he's innocent?
Because of the witnesses that I've been able to find. It's not what I believe that counts, it's what I believe I could establish in court. I have great witnesses. If a jury ever heard them, Richard would be free.
How do u feel about the ACCA and the new developments since Johnson vs US? What can be done for those serving now unconstitutional sentences?
That's a little too heavy for me. I don't know!
I'm surprised you're able to do an AMA.
I'd have assumed there would have been a gag order.
You said something to the likes of 'if a jury ever heard your witnesses, Richard would be free' - why "if" and not "when"?
By the time I got on this case, all of Mr. Glossip's appeals had been exhausted. We needed to find and present evidence of his actual innocence in order to get back into court. Two judges on the Oklahoma court of criminal appeals, agreed that we had presented enough new evidence of his innocence to warrant a hearing. If we'd had one more judge on our side, we would be back in court and would be able to present our evidence to a judge and perhaps to a jury on a later date.
How do you defend such crimes?
How do you feel about the validity of "Mental illness" as an excuse in court?
Everyone deserves a good defense. Richard's case is a great example. The crime was horrible, but Richard did not commit this crime. It was poor lawyering that put him in this position. If he'd had good lawyers at the start, we wouldn't be having this discussion now -- he would be free.
As far as the mental illness questions is concerned, it's not an excuse. Mental illness is real. It causes people to act in ways that they wouldn't if they were not mentally ill. We don't understand mental illness to the degree that we one day will.