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Newsworthy EventI am Don Knight, one of the pro bono defense attorneys for Richard Glossip, AMA

Oct 5th 2015 by Don_Knight_ • 21 Questions • 62 Points

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.

Q:

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!

A:

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.


Q:

Do you not worry about talking so openly about how horrible were the services that legal team delivered to Glossip? Do they still practice?

A:

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.


Q:

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.[2] Although the execution was stopped, Lockett died 43 minutes after being sedated. He writhed, groaned, convulsed,[3] and spoke during the process and attempted to rise from the execution table fourteen minutes into the procedure, despite having been declared unconscious.[4]

A:

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.


Q:

Is there any other evidence that Glossip hired Sneed besides Sneed's testimony that ultimately reduced his sentence to 'Life in Prison' from death?

A:

No. Not other than Sneed's testimony.


Q:

What has been the most difficult aspect of this case professionally, and personally?

A:

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.


Q:

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?

A:

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.


Q:

What would have to happen now for Fallin to extend the stay? National large corporate/business boycott outrage?

A:

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.


Q:

Have you ever found someone that you struggled to defend?

A:

No. I believe everyone has the right to a great defense. Otherwise, we are all vulnerable.


Q:

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?

A:

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.


Q:

Why do you believe he's innocent?

A:

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.


Q:

What was your reaction when you heard Pope Francis & Richard Branson were supporting Glossip? Were you surprised?

A:

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?


Q:

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?

A:

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.


Q:

Where can we donate?


Q:

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?

A:

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.


Q:

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...

A:

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.


Q:

Stephen Breyer

Excellent choice! She's bookmarking his dissent for her evening reading after the kids are in bed!

A:

Enjoy! Hurry before they make the movie!


Q:

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.

A:

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.


Q:

What do you think of the work of Maya Foa in trying to disrupt the access to drugs used in lethal injections?

A:

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.


Q:

You say you're one of the pro bono attorneys. Are the other attorneys more fans of the edge?

A:

Haha! Yes, I'm pro bono and Richard Branson parties with Bono. It sucks.


Q:

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?

A:

That's a little too heavy for me. I don't know!


Q:

How do you defend such crimes?

How do you feel about the validity of "Mental illness" as an excuse in court?

A:

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.