The following opinion by Christy Sheppard was published on September 12, 2015 by The Oklahoman.
National attention is focused on the pending execution of Richard Glossip, and on his potential innocence. As a murder victim's family member, it has always bothered me that the victim and family seem to be a side note. Barry Van Treese, the victim in Glossip's case, was a victim of an awful crime. My heart, and that of my family, aches for his family.
And while I cannot speak for how his family feels, I certainly have every blessing to speak for mine.
My cousin was Debbie Carter, who in 1982 was raped and murdered. Five years later, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were convicted of the crime. Williamson received the death penalty. We had every reason to believe in the convictions. Over the years we suffered through numerous appeals and repeated findings of guilt.
Then my family was delivered a bombshell of information: DNA testing proved that Williamson and Fritz had been wrongfully convicted. We were shocked. Debbie's justice was being ripped away.
We eventually learned that Debbie's case was plagued with unreliable evidence. So what does wrongful conviction feel like from the perspective of the victim or victim's family? At first it looks like disbelief, and justice denied. We later felt a burden of guilt and shame for being led to support the near executions of innocent men.
I know very little about Glossip's case, or if he is truly guilty or innocent. Gov. Mary Fallin stated Glossip “had over 6,000 days to present new evidence,” and her spokesman said that, “To say that Glossip has had his day in court is an understatement.” In Debbie's case, too, years of trials, retrials and appeals had happened — but the guilty verdict still proved incorrect.
Looking at the evidence, there's no doubt Glossip might be innocent. But it's almost impossible to totally prove. Van Treese and his family deserve justice, but justice won't be served if Glossip is put to death and we find out too late that he is innocent of this crime.
I'm a native Oklahoman. I have had a family member who was brutally murdered, and I grew up believing the death penalty was fair and just. I still struggle with my desire for justice and what I know about wrongful convictions.
Regardless of how you feel about the death penalty, unless we're absolutely sure of Glossip's guilt, it actually threatens justice — and peace of mind — to make the leap to execute him.
We can't be cavalier when it comes to the subject of putting someone to death, and turn a blind eye to information that may make a difference.
Sheppard lives in Ada. Glossip is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for his role in the 1997 killing of Van Treese, an Oklahoma City motel owner.