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Oklahoma Should Stop Glossip Execution

Anti-Death Penalty Summit - Jan. 28, 2012 on Flickr The Commons

Rationality and any legal system in the world can conflict and contradict, and they often do, and that’s why we always need advocacy and agitation for clarity and equilibrium.

Take this nation’s myriad of current drug laws on a state-by-state basis, for example, which leads to some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The war on drugs by most anyone’s rational estimation has failed, leading a vast trail of broken lives and misery. Meanwhile, because of advocacy and rationality Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana.

People cling to legalities and rules often blindly because they’re afraid to admit to the ambiguity that underpins our very lives. Yet when it comes to the law, an important aspect of our lives, jurors can get it wrong, prosecutors and police can let a zealous thirst for a conviction cloud their judgment and judges can let it all unfold in a bizarre trajectory because they are paralyzed by “tough-on-crime” politics in a conservative state.

Perhaps, this is a long-winded manner in which to begin another discussion of the Richard Glossip case. The state of Oklahoma is scheduled to put Glossip to death by lethal injection Sept. 16. He was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder in the death of his then boss Barry Van Treese at an Oklahoma City motel.

Let me stress this: It has never been alleged that Glossip actually killed anyone. This is the fact that defies rationality in this legal case yet it doesn’t get stated often enough. Glossip has never been accused of actually killing anyone in a physical sense.

While actress Susan Sarandon and Sister Helen Prejean, two anti-death penalty advocates, have rightly made impassioned pleas to save Glossip’s life, their focus has been on the presentation of new evidence that could actually exonerate Glossip.

But time is running out on Glossip, and those who could actually save his life have consistently shown an aversion to rationality and ambiguity in the larger frame of this legal case. Gov. Mary Fallin, for example, has continued to point out that not one but two juries have found Glossip guilty and given him the death penalty.

Said Fallin, in a recent statement, “Richard Glossip has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death by two juries. His conviction and death sentence have been reviewed and upheld by four courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. His actions directly led to the brutal murder of a husband and a father of seven children. The state of Oklahoma is prepared to hold him accountable for his crimes and move forward with his scheduled execution.”

In other words, the law, whether applied rationally or not in this case, must take precedence, but rational people can only repeat, “Richard Glossip has never been accused of physically killing anyone.” He was accused of asking Justin Sneed to commit the murder for money, and, indeed, Sneed has admitted to killing Van Treese. For his testimony in the case, Sneed received life in prison rather than the death penalty. Any rational person would obviously argue that Sneed had a vested interest in giving such testimony.

Are there cases in which murder suspects should receive the ultimate sentence for ordering a killing? One might make this argument if such a suspect was a leader of a syndicated crime network or involved in terrorist activities, but those exceptions—and I’m against the death penalty in general—simply don’t apply in this case.

Rationality would dictate Glossip’s sentence be formally commuted to life in prison, and then if he has evidence exonerating himself, he can present it. Even if Glossip asked Sneed to kill Van Treese, Sneed had the option of backing out and informing the authorities.

The facts of the case, widely discussed in the media, are fairly straightforward. Glossip was a manager of a motel owned by Van Treese in 1997. It was alleged that Van Treese was going to confront Glossip on some financial matters related to the motel and consequently Glossip supposedly asked Sneed, a handyman at the motel, to kill Van Treese, which Sneed admitted he did by beating him with a baseball bat. Glossip has maintained his innocence in the case and has declined plea agreements that would have spared him the death penalty.

In the end, it pretty much comes down to the word of someone who admits beating a man to death and had a stark vested interest to implicate another person in the death to save his own life. Rationality, not the law, tells us that in this case it seems prudent to act cautiously and not kill Richard Glossip, who didn’t physically kill another person, who has never been accused of physically killing another person and who has maintained his innocence for 18 years.

Manmade Earthquakes Continue To Rattle Oklahoma

Wind Power on Flickr The Commons

There’s not much more startling than waking up to a 3.7-magnitude earthquake shaking and rattling your house, but that’s what happened to many of us Sunday morning in central Oklahoma, and it’s the “new normal” here.

No big deal, right? The epicenter of the earthquake that hit around 7:15 a.m. was about four miles east of Edmond.

Of course, The Oklahoman doesn’t want us to worry about it because the oil and gas industry, which scientists claim is causing all the earthquakes and damaging our homes and property through an element of the fracking process, is spending so much money to try to fix the problem. But the reality is that the quakes keep coming at stupendously bizarre record levels, and our state leaders, especially the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt have sold us out to the frackers.

The newspaper published what really shouldn’t be called a “story” on Aug. 23 explaining that disposal well operators have spent more than $35 million to try to stop the earthquakes. The story, written by Adam Wilmoth, is nothing more than a publicity release for the oil and gas industry, and the $35 million number is highly questionable. Here’s a paragraph from the story:

”The industry has done a really good job of cooperating and coordinating with the Corporation Commission," Commissioner Dana Murphy said this month at the Tri-State Oil and Gas Convention in Woodward. "You're talking about $150,000 to $250,000 or more for these companies not just to shut down their wells, but to plug them back."

Good job? What about all the earthquakes that keep shaking things up here? A $100,000 difference in the range of money to “plug them back”? It’s completely not credible information. Do not believe anything “official” about this issue that emits from the mouths of an Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner these days. Do, however, read this story about campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry received by Murphy and other commissioners and Pruitt. Be sure to note, as I’ve pointed out in the past, that Fallin has received thousands upon thousands of dollars in campaign contribution from oil and gas interests in her political career as well.

I’ve written a version of the following paragraph countless number of times in the past few years.

In the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process, water laced with toxic chemicals is injected underground by high pressure to create fissures in rock formations that release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure into what are called disposal or injection wells. Scientists have confirmed it’s the disposal well process that is causing Oklahoma’s staggering amount of earthquakes.

The state is on track to experience more than 800 earthquakes of 3.0-magnitude or higher this year, the most in the contiguous United States. Just a few years ago, the state only experienced two or three minor earthquakes a year. The fracking boom, which has already gone bust, has turned the central and north-central part of the state into a property owner’s and realtor’s nightmare.

The constant shaking has to be damaging homes and property. Meanwhile, people here live with the worry that one of those earthquakes is going to keep going and going and going and turn into a significant disaster that will destroy homes and maybe even kill and injure people. The scientists say it could happen. They even say it might not even matter if fracking or disposal wells were banned here. The damage has already been done. Read this about issuing a moratorium on disposal wells:

Such a ban would not only prohibit the operation of a legally permitted activity, but also shut down wells that are not linked to earthquakes. In fact, experts say shutting down injection could make the earthquakes worse, and even create larger environmental problems.

As Oklahoma’s state seismologist Dr. Austin Holland has observed, stopping injections could actually cause new earthquakes, adding that there is “a fair amount of modeling that shows that might be the case.” There are also many cases where earthquakes continue after injection ceases, according to Holland.

The only solution to this problem is political. We need political leaders who care about the vast majority of people who live here rather than one industry that donates a lot of money to campaigns and has a powerful political lobby. The oil and gas industry is going to be here until it has sucked out the last drop of oil or the last cubic foot of natural gas from the ground. The approach or approaches to stopping and limiting the manmade earthquakes may well be nuanced and complicated, but we’re not even going to get to that point with our current state leadership.

Here are seven things we CAN do:

(1) Do not trust the word of Fallin, Pruitt, any member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission or The Oklahoman about the earthquake issue.

(2) Vote for local and statewide politicians that are concerned about earthquake damage to your home and other property.

(3) Be ready to join a class action lawsuit or lawsuits against disposal well operators and the oil and gas industry.. Standard & Poor’s, which rates credit risks, has already pointed out the possible numerous financial implications and dangers of Oklahoma’s earthquakes.

(4) Show up at meetings or town halls about the issue. The Oklahoma Sierra Club is an excellent resource to use to find out about such meetings.

(5) Carefully document any damage to your property caused by an earthquake. Note the time and date and confirm it with the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Take photographs of the damage.

(6) Join the growing movement to create more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

(7) Know what you need to do during an earthquake. Many experts tell people to find cover under a table or something sturdy rather than run outside, which is a normal reaction.

Costello Stabbing Death Shines Light On Mental Health Issues

Image of Mark Costello

The recent stabbing death of Oklahoma Labor Commissioner and Republican Mark Costello seems at first as inconceivable as it is horrific.

But what’s very much conceivable and, in its own way, very much horrific, is the anti-health care agenda promoted by Costello’s own political party, the GOP, here in Oklahoma and across much of the country.

These two points intersect because Costello’s son, Christian Costello, 26, has been arrested in his stabbing death, which occurred a few days ago at a Braum’s restaurant and store in northwest Oklahoma City. Christian Costello, according to media reports, suffered from severe mental illness, which included schizophrenia. Oklahoma has historically underfunded its mental health system, but that has been compounded lately by the Republican Party’s demonization of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires most health insurance plans to cover mental health treatment and Oklahoma’s obstinate refusal under a state government dominated by the GOP to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

In fact, here in Oklahoma, Attorney General Scott Pruitt has made his political career about suing the federal government over the legality of the ACA. He gets cheered on by many of his fellow Republicans and The Oklahoman editorial board, and the suffering continues.

We might assume that Costello, 59, was able to financially afford any possible treatment received by his son, but the problem is local access to quality care. The fewer dollars available overall for mental health treatment in any given jurisdiction or state will mean fewer quality options for patients. So, in the end, it really won’t matter how much money potential patients have unless they can seek treatment in a more enlightened state that realizes mental illness is a significant part of our culture that needs to be addressed quickly and efficiently whenever it surfaces. It’s good for the patient; it’s good for the entire society. When we treat mental illness, we lower criminal incarceration rates, for example.

I’m not suggesting, either, that there aren’t some great mental health providers here. The late Costello just four months ago gave a speech in which he apparently lauded local mental health advocates and, according to a media report, said this about mental illness, “And we must be understanding and understand that society cannot ignore this problem, and if it does so, it does so at its peril.”

Those are the truest of true words, but most of Costello’s fellow Republican leaders here seem to dismiss the notion of “society” in favor of “individual responsibility” even when it comes to people so incapacitated by mental illness they can’t afford medical care for their condition or they can’t get it because they don’t qualify for government assistance or they can't find it because it doesn’t exist.

People might accuse me of politicizing Costello’s brutal killing too early, but it’s NEVER too early to talk about the failure of Oklahoma to address its mental health and drug addiction issues. My heart goes out to the Costello family, and I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually family members speak out more publicly and productively about the problem of mental illness in general. But nothing substantial is going to happen here in Oklahoma with the current prevailing GOP mindset about health care in general.

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