A Republican state representative who describes himself as a death penalty supporter has said he believes that death row inmate Richard Glossip is innocent.
Kevin McDugle, from Oklahoma, was responding to a report by a Houston law firm into Glossip’s case.
He said: “We’ve got an individual sitting on death row that has been there 25 years, and I believe he’s totally innocent.”
Glossip, 59, has been convicted twice and sentenced to death for ordering the killing of Barry Van Treese, the owner of a motel in Oklahoma City where Glossip worked.
Justin Sneed, a handyman, admitted robbing and beating Mr Van Treese in January 1997, but said he only did this after Glossip offered to pay him $10,000. Sneed is serving a life sentence without parole after pleading guilty to beating Van Treese to death with a baseball bat in a room at the motel.
But the law firm Reed Smith, which produced its report for the state of Oklahoma for free, said that important evidence had been lost or destroyed in Glossip’s case.
It also said that a detective had improperly asked leading questions of Sneed in an effort to implicate Glossip.
Stan Perry, a lawyer with Reed Smith, said: “Our conclusion is that no reasonable juror, hearing the complete record, and the uncovered facts… would have convicted Richard Glossip of capital murder.”
The lost evidence included financial records that were destroyed in late 1999 or early 2000, before Glossip’s retrial and after his first conviction and death sentence were overturned.
These could have contradicted the prosecution’s theory that Glossip wanted to hide his alleged embezzlement from the motel, where he was manager, and so had Mr Van Treese killed.
The report added: “This loss or destruction of evidence appears to be so critical to the defence as to cast serious doubt as to the fundamental fairness of the criminal trial against Glossip.”
Mr McDugle led the push for the investigation and said that, while “I do believe in the death penalty”, safeguards were needed to protect the innocent.
He called for Glossip to get a new appeals court hearing, adding: “If we put Richard Glossip to death, I will fight in this state to abolish the death penalty, simply because the process is not pure.”
Glossip’s lawyer Don Knight said: “In the coming days, Mr Glossip’s defence team will file a request for a hearing with the Oklahoma Court of Appeals so this new evidence of innocence can be examined in a court of law.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who took office after Glossip’s second trial and second death sentence, said he is reviewing the report.
He has previously said he thinks Glossip is guilty, having reviewed various items of evidence, and that he would support a retrial for first-degree murder and again seek the death penalty.
Glossip was close to execution in September 2015 but prison authorities had the wrong lethal drug.
After it was revealed that the drug had been used to execute another inmate, Oklahoma’s executions were suspended.
They resumed in October with the execution of John Grant, who convulsed and vomited before he was declared dead.