NI journalist Ian Woods: My unlikely friendship with death row inmate

Ian Woods has been Sky News correspondent in US and Australia as well as covering stories around the world
Ian Woods has been Sky News correspondent in US and Australia as well as covering stories around the world
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A journalist from Belfast has written a book about a man who has spent 20 years on death row in Oklahoma after forging an unlikely and at times turbulent friendship with the inmate in question.

On a ‘quiet news’ day between Christmas and New Year in 2014 Sky News reporter Ian Woods came across an article about an upcoming execution in Oklahoma.

Ian Woods visits Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the execution of Richard Glossip

Ian Woods visits Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the execution of Richard Glossip

Having made initial inquiries with contacts in the US, a few weeks later Mr Woods found himself in Oklahoma State Penitentiary waiting outside the death chamber where he was to be a witness to Richard Glossip’s execution.

Mr Woods said: “I hadn’t been expecting to be invited to the execution. Waiting to be called in to witness the execution was an experience unlike any other.”

At the last minute the execution was stayed, as were two subsequent executions.

Mr Woods’ book details the case of Glossip, a death row inmate who was convicted of murder largely based on the testimony of a self-confessed killer. It also explores the wider issue of the death penalty.

The new book by Ian Woods

The new book by Ian Woods

Following the first postponed execution, Mr Woods began a campaign to bring the injustices Glossip has faced to the world’s attention.

He said: “This is a guy who has had three final meals in the space of a year who I believe has been subject to a miscarriage of justice.

“If people support the death penalty, I disagree but I respect their view. But if you’re going to execute somebody you want more than beyond reasonable doubt. It needs to be beyond any doubt.

“It was important for me that I wasn’t just a ghostwriter for Richard Glossip. I was a journalist writing independently about this which makes it all the more powerful to come to the conclusion that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

Richard Glossip who faces the death penalty having had three stays of execution

Richard Glossip who faces the death penalty having had three stays of execution

“I won’t say he’s innocent. It’s a bit more complicated than that. He lied about the murder. What he should have been convicted of was being an accessory after the fact because he covered it up.

“Because he lied to the police he got himself in a while heap of trouble but I don’t think he’s guilty of murder.”

Mr Woods told how he became friends with Glossip: “What’s amazing about him is almost every time you talk to him he’s very upbeat. I can genuinely say I’ve enjoyed his company.

“The last day I spoke to him was the day of Martin McGuinness’ funeral. I was standing at his graveside when I got a phone call from Richard.

“We’d had a few arguments over the previous few weeks. He’d co-operated with the book and wanted me to write it, but then he’d started talking about writing his own book.

“His own friends were taking my side. They were telling him that a journalist has taken years to write a book about his case and found there to be a miscarriage of justice – what did he have to complain about? He fell out with them too.

“I hadn’t spoken to him in about nine months but I’ve recently learned that he has read the book and he likes it.

“I’m hoping we can now perhaps reconcile our relationship.”

He added: “I’ve been in the business more than 30 years covering stories all over the world – revolutions, natural disasters – but I’ve never had a story that I’ve devoted anywhere near as much time to.”