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Interview with state Rep. Kevin McDugle on Richard Glossip, Oklahoma executions

State Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, speaks at a February news conference with clergy and a former corrections official calling for a moratorium on executions in Oklahoma.
Doug Hoke
The Oklahoman via AP
Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, speaks at a February news conference with clergy and a former corrections official calling for a moratorium on executions in the state.

The Republican lawmaker supports the death penalty, but he isn't afraid to speak up when he believes someone shouldn't be put to death — or when he thinks the state gets it wrong.

In his more than 25 years in prison for a murder-for-hire scheme, Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip has had his last meal three times.

Glossip is currently scheduled for execution on May 18, but last week, state attorney general Gentner Drummond asked for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate his conviction, citing uncertainty in his guilt after an independent investigation. Drummond’s announcement was good news for Glossip’s many supporters who believe he’s innocent.

The day after Drummond announced his request, we sat down with Broken Arrow state representative Kevin McDugle, who’s advocated on behalf of Glossip for years. McDugle has also spoken publicly about former death row inmate Julius Jones, and about his uncertainty with Oklahoma’s execution process.

MAX BRYAN: When did you first hear about Richard Glossip 's case? And what caught your attention about it?

KEVIN MCDUGLE: Four years ago, a buddy of mine by the name of Justin Jackson told me he thought we had somebody in Oklahoma that was innocent that was actually on death row. And to be honest with you, I didn't believe it, because you hear a lot of people in prison who are innocent, right? But he said, "There's a show called Killing Richard Glossip," and he said, "I'd like for you to watch it." And after watching that series, I thought, you know, this is a Hollywood production, so it could be a little bit of hype. But even if 10% of what they're saying is true, we really could have a guy in Oklahoma that's innocent on death row. So that's when I got started, and that's when I started digging in a little bit more.

MB: So how long have you advocated for Richard Glossip? And what what was kind of the the point where you wanted to speak out about this case?

KM: Four years ago, I reached out to (Glossip's attorney) Don Knight, and I told him, I said, "I want you to send me everything that you have. Let me look through it. Let me read through it." So we started collaborating. I also went over to the Attorney General's Office at that time, Mike Hunter. And I said, "Mike, I want to see everything you have on this guy, if you've got proof that he's guilty, I want to see it." And they couldn't lay out anything in front of me... They wanted me to go away. They didn't want me to look in it at all. And that made me want to dig in even more.

MB: So the decision yesterday from Attorney General Gentner Drummond — so, what was your reaction to his decision?

KM: I'm ecstatic because I know getting Drummond is tough on crime. I know that his mission is to put people behind bars that deserve it. I had asked for a third party to investigate. They did their investigation and came to the same conclusion I had, then Gentner Drummond assigned a third party to investigate, and they came to the same conclusion — not that he was innocent, but that he wasn't guilty and shouldn't be on death row. I couldn't ask for more than what he did.

MB: Now that this decision has been made, what's next?

KM: You have two third-party investigations that don't claim his innocence, but say shouldn't be on death row. You've got the Attorney General saying the exact same thing, so now it's up to the Court of Criminal Appeals. They have to rule on Gentner Drummond's filing. If they agree with it, then it would go back to the district courts and his his guilt would be vacated. Basically, he'd start all over from the point that he was arrested, and they'd set a new trial if they feel like they have enough evidence to try him. Or it could be up to the DA to do something different. If they don't rule on getting Drummond's filing, we've got a court date with the Pardon and Parole Board on April 26. And we have a death row date of May 18. So if they say nothing about it, if they do nothing, Richard Glossip could be put to death May 18.

MB: So I have to ask, do you have any concerns that maybe you've been wrong, and maybe he is guilty as he was charged back in 1997?

KM: They can show me nothing that ties him, and the one thing they have is a witness that says that he was the one that told him to commit the murder. Guess who that witness was? The actual murderer that beat him with a baseball bat. He's the witness, and what did he get for that testimony? He got off of death row himself and got life in prison. They have zero proof outside of that, that can tie Richard Glossip to giving him money, splitting money with him. Zero. So I have zero doubts that that were wrong.

MB: Going a little broader, you've spoken about Glossip, and back in 2021, you spoke out about Julius Jones. Are there any other cases in Oklahoma where you would feel comfortable speaking out, going public about?

KM: I don't have any others right now. I mean, for the most part, the ones that are on death row are deserving of it. We have had, however, out of the last 120 on death row, 10 of those were exonerated by DNA. So they went through the court process, they were found guilty, and then through DNA evidence, we find out they're not guilty. Richard Glossip would be the 11th. So that means 10% of the people we put on death row are now not guilty. We have to have a better rate than that. We have to make sure that 100% of the people we have on death row are guilty of the crime and deserving of death. So we have some changes to make there.

MB: Yes. And of course, you did go on record asking for a moratorium until those changes are made. Correct?

KM: Absolutely.

MB: Yes. And so between asking for a moratorium and speaking out about Glossip and Jones, your view on certain death penalty cases and on the death penalty at large in Oklahoma seems to be more nuanced than some other officials at the Capitol, including — at least ostensibly — the governor. So what do you think contributes to that?

KM: Well, the biggest thing for me is I believe in the death penalty. What I'm not confident right now in is the death row process. We have the death penalty review commission put together a report a few years ago, and they had 18 changes that needed to be made to our death row process. None of those 18 changes have been made. Zero. So if we make those 18 changes, then I'd be confident that the process we have would be fixed, and we could go back to death row process in Oklahoma.

This interview has been edited for length, clarity and accuracy.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.