The firm’s investigation revealed the state’s intentional destruction of evidence before trial and an inadequate police investigation. It also uncovered police contamination of the state’s star witness, Justin Sneed, the actual killer, who implicated Glossip only after the detectives mentioned Glossip’s name to Sneed six times during his interrogation. Likewise, the investigation uncovered additional evidence, never presented to the jury or to any court, that would likely have led to a different outcome in the case in the estimation of the Reed Smith team.
An ad hoc committee of Oklahoma state legislators in February requested Reed Smith to conduct an independent investigation into the Glossip case. Glossip was sentenced to death for purportedly masterminding the murder of Barry Van Treese, who owned the Oklahoma City motel where Glossip worked. Glossip has maintained his innocence, and his case has drawn international attention. In June 2021, a bipartisan group of more than 30 Oklahoma legislators implored the Governor of Oklahoma and the Pardon and Parole Board in Oklahoma to conduct an investigation into the Glossip case. Reed Smith was asked to conduct its independent investigation after no investigation by the State of Oklahoma was conducted.
Reed Smith partner Stan Perry announced the firm’s findings contained in its 343-page report, including appendices, at a joint press conference with members of the legislative ad hoc committee, including Rep. Kevin McDugle.
“Considering the facts we uncovered, and that there exists no physical forensic evidence or credible corroborating testimony linking Glossip to the crime, our conclusion is that no reasonable juror hearing the complete record would have convicted Richard Glossip of first-degree murder,” said Perry, a member of the investigative team and the firm’s global director of pro bono and community service.
In asking Reed Smith to conduct an independent review of the entire case record and any additional information relevant to Glossip’s case and conviction, the committee of Oklahoma state legislators granted the firm’s team the authority to seek assistance from professionals and other individuals outside the firm in completing the review. The findings of the report therefore extend well beyond the case’s judicial record and raise serious concerns as to the integrity of Glossip’s conviction. Reed Smith had no prior involvement in the case.
The law firm’s report concludes that Glossip’s “2004 trial cannot be relied on to support a murder-for-hire-conviction. Nor can it provide a basis for the government to take the life of Richard E. Glossip.”
Perry said at the news conference: “For more than 20 years, concerns have been raised regarding the integrity of Richard Glossip’s conviction and death sentence. The findings of our independent review reveal a cascade of failures and breakdowns in procedure that should never occur, and most certainly never in capital punishment cases.”
A Reed Smith team of over 30 lawyers, three investigators and two paralegals devoted more than 3,000 hours to the independent investigation on a pro bono basis. The team reviewed more than 12,000 documents totaling 146,168 pages, and contacted 72 witnesses, including 38 civilians and members of law enforcement.
Team members also interviewed seven jurors, two experts and several members of the media who had knowledge of the case, and conducted a 3.5-hour interview with Glossip at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
As detailed in the report, Reed Smith obtained new documents pertaining to the case and spoke to witnesses never before interviewed by police, prosecutors or Glossip’s defense teams. The firm’s team also pursued missing records and provided novel analysis to all evidence examined, both existing and newly discovered.
As detailed in the report, concerns raised by the investigation include the destruction of several pieces of key physical evidence and potentially exculpatory financial documents. This destruction of evidence at the direction of the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office occurred before Glossip’s retrial, and was described as “horrifying” by one of the assistant district attorneys who prosecuted Glossip.
The investigation also revealed serious mishandling of evidence by the Oklahoma City Police Department, including losing a videotape from the night of the murder that could have provided critical information. Likewise, investigators returned evidence to the victim’s family even before murder charges against Glossip were filed.
The investigation also concluded that the purported motive theories put forth by the state are untrue. Furthermore, the jury was never presented with critical evidence regarding the true character of the actual killer, who was mischaracterized by the state as a mere “puppet” of Glossip.
The report includes several suggestions for improving the process for implementation of the death penalty in the State of Oklahoma. For example:
- Evidence should not be destroyed in a capital murder case, and additional safeguards against that should be implemented.
- Before carrying out a death sentence, at least in cases where there are serious questions concerning the defendant’s guilt or innocence, an independent body should conduct an expeditious and thorough review of the conviction to ensure its integrity.
- Evidence should not be released before defense counsel can examine it, all evidence must be provided to counsel and investigators, and it must be carefully preserved for potential later use or testing.
- An expert in the field of interrogations should be engaged to evaluate police interrogation techniques and make and implement recommendations to safeguard against contamination of interrogations.
- The Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS) should not be the appellate lawyers for direct appeals/ineffective assistance of counsel claims if OIDS attorneys served as defense counsel in the trial.
- Specific criteria for service on the state’s Pardon and Parole Board should be implemented to prevent conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts; and when members of the board are recused, their votes should not count against the defendant, as is currently the case.
About the report
In preparing the report, Reed Smith obtained assistance on certain Oklahoma legal issues from the law firm Crowe & Dunlevy.
The findings and recommendations contained in the report are exclusively those of Reed Smith’s investigation team and do not represent the judgments, opinions or policies of the Ad Hoc Committee, the Oklahoma Legislature, or any other agency, law firm or organization.
A PDF copy of the report is available to the public.