Unpredictable Laws, Fallible Judges

In Oklahoma Richard Glossip is between two execution deadlines: he came within hours of the first, on September 16, before it was stayed by the US Supreme Court; but now another is looming (September 30). The anxiety that this must be causing him is unimaginable, and tantamount to torture. Even if guilty of the crime of which he was convicted (hiring a killer to commit a murder) he is under an unwarranted degree of stress; if he is innocent, as he has always maintained, his predicament is all the more shameful. His conviction is based almost exclusively on the testimony of the murderer, who is trying to save his own life.

For Jeffrey Wogenstahl Glossip’s situation must resonate: Jeff similarly maintains his innocence, and, like Glossip, has an execution date. Although Jeff’s date is over a year away, it constantly impacts his life. Personal experience has left him painfully aware of the workings of the law. Looking back to his trial, he is conscious of the deficiencies of his defense and the misconduct of the prosecution; reflecting on his appeals, he is keenly aware that the law often favors finality over justice.

Despite extensive new angles that can be explored in his case, this is a stressful time for Jeff. As in Glossip’s case, the information must be filed correctly, or judges will dismiss it without consideration. Jeff and his lawyers must study the relevant case law, but if precedent is limited and interpreted in different ways it is difficult to predict what courts will accept. Time must also be taken to research the case law underpinning the presentation of new material, to allow judges the possibility of overruling the usual tendency of the law to confirm the trial verdict.

Even if everything is filed in the best possible way, the outcome is determined by judges who are human and fallible, and may not even interpret the law correctly. For example, like Richard Glossip, Willie Manning came within hours of execution; in Manning’s case the Mississippi Supreme Court’s was denying him DNA and fingerprint testing, to which his lawyers felt sure he was entitled.*

It is nonetheless important that the defendant has the best possible chance, and for this, time is important. In Jeff’s case it is fortunate that his execution date has twice been postponed while Ohio tries to procure lethal injection drugs: his original date was passed more than four months ago, and his second would now have been imminent. The extension allows him and his lawyers valuable extra time to complete their investigation and get the filing and presentation right.

Our sympathies at this time are with Glossip and his lawyers, who have been granted only a two-week period to investigate, research and file new information; we sincerely hope that they achieve this aim to their satisfaction. And we trust that Jeff and his lawyers will also successfully walk the tightrope of legal precedent to allow Jeff to demonstrate his innocence.

*Speaking on the Al Jazeera America program Flawed Forensics on June 1, 2014, Manning’s lawyer, David Voisin, stated:
“I have never understood why the State was opposing testing in this case. The law is clear, you know, that we should be able to do this.”
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