This election year, Republican and Democratic voters in records numbers agree on something: They distrust political leaders and the political establishment. That same distrust applies to ambitious prosecutors, who are part of the political establishment. Too many have been caught cheating to win convictions, withholding exculpatory evidence and using coerced confessions.
The bipartisan distrust of the political establishment is certainly increasing with regard to the death penalty.
The government’s troubling track record of exercising its life-ending authority provides ample reason for concern. Since 1973, more than 155 people have been released from death row because they were wrongfully convicted. Ten were from Oklahoma. As an anti-abortion, pro-law enforcement conservative who believes in the sanctity of life and society’s duty to protect the innocent, I find this unacceptable.
Oklahoma’s well-documented wrongful convictions and failure to adhere to established execution protocols have shown that it cannot be trusted with properly carrying out the solemn responsibility of executing inmates. Oklahoma officials might soon compound these known problems by attempting again to execute Richard Glossip, a man who may well be innocent.
Read all the recent editorials from The Oklahoman.
Glossip was convicted in 1997 of murdering Barry Van Treese. Justin Sneed, a 19-year-old with a documented criminal history and drug problem, was apprehended and admitted to law enforcement that he murdered Van Treese. After the police repeatedly suggested that he should implicate Glossip, Sneed eventually claimed he was hired by Glossip to kill Van Treese. As a result, Glossip was convicted and sentenced to die despite the fact that there was no physical evidence linking him to the murder. Sneed was rewarded with a life sentence in a medium-security state prison.
The bulk of the prosecution’s case against Glossip is based on Sneed’s statements, but his story has changed at least eight times. Nevertheless, he is the only person who connects Glossip to the crime. Furthermore, as state authorities tried to execute Glossip last summer, lawyers working pro bono for him uncovered at least three witnesses who cast considerable doubt on the guilty verdict.
Conservatives are the leaders against government abuse and lawlessness. We understand that government can be callous about its errors, which are costly and cause harm to the innocent. When government tries to execute a man who may well be innocent, I believe we have an even higher calling to speak out.
Oklahoma’s systemic failures and Glossip’s case in particular are emblematic of what is wrong with America’s death penalty. The death penalty’s problems are a confluence of things that all Americans loathe: a big, broken, costly and dangerous government program prone to mistakes, and with questionable positive benefits.
It was recently announced that a bipartisan group of eminent Oklahomans would be donating their time to a first-of-its-kind review of the Oklahoma death penalty system. I urge all Oklahomans, and especially conservatives, to support the call for a moratorium on the Oklahoma death penalty until this commission has finished its task and made its recommendations.
The death penalty system, where errors are gravest, is prone to flaws and lawlessness like any other government program.
Richard Art Viguerie is an American conservative icon, pioneer of political direct mail and writer on politics. He is the current chairman of ConservativeHQ.com.