The Facts About One of the Most Controversial Death Penalty Cases in America
Even if you support capital punishment, Richard Glossip’s case isn’t how justice should work in The United States of America.
These are the Facts No One Disputes:
- 33-year-old Richard Glossip worked as the manager at Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Glossip had never been in trouble with the law.
- In the early morning of January 7, 1997, 19-year-old itinerant maintenance man Justin Sneed—who had a criminal record and raging meth addiction—beat motel owner Barry Van Treese to death with a baseball bat in Room 102. Van Treese was also stabbed from the front and in the back. Cash was stolen from under the front seat of Van Treese’s car and the vehicle was moved a short distance. Sneed was captured and eventually admitted he killed Barry Van Treese, at one point describing it as a botched robbery.
- Sneed’s fingerprints and DNA were found all over the crime scene and on the money he stole from Van Treese. There is NO forensic evidence tying Glossip to the murder.
Everything that happened after is simply admitted killer Justin Sneed’s word—and a constantly changing word—against Richard Glossip’s. And Glossip could die because of it.
Sneed's made-up story
Justin Sneed was under arrest for first-degree murder. Before they asked him any questions about the crime, the detectives let him know what they wanted to hear:
Detective: Well, they’ve made you the scapegoat in this. You know, everybody is saying you’re the one that did this and you did it by yourself and I don’t believe that. You know Rich is under arrest, don’t you?
Sneed: No. I didn’t know that.
Detective: Yeah. He’s under arrest, too.
Detective: So he’s the one – he’s putting it on you the worst. Now, I think that there’s more to this than just you being by yourself and I would like for you to tell me what—how this got started and what happened.
After they prompted him repeatedly, Sneed finally said, “Okay. Rich told me that he would split what money we could get out of Barry.” He then described his crime in detail that matched the physical evidence. At the end, he seemed to remember he was supposed to be implicating Rich:
Sneed: Actually, Rich asked me to kill Barry and that’s what he’d done, yes.
Detective: Rich asked you to kill Barry?
Sneed: Yes. So that he could run the motel without him being the boss.
That was the only explanation they got for why Rich Glossip, who regularly had access to tens of thousands of dollars in cash as the manager of the motel, would have wanted Barry Van Treese killed. The motive made no sense—it was invented on the spot by a strung-out teenager trying to get out from under a capital murder charge—but they had an answer on tape and that was good enough for them.
Prosecutors filed capital charges against Sneed, and then told him they would withdraw the death penalty if he’d tell the story again, to a jury in the capital trial of Richard Glossip.
The Only Real Evidence Against Glossip
Differing Stories Made Up by the Admitted Killer Justin Sneed After Detectives Told Sneed to Implicate Glossip or Be Left “Holding the Bag” For the Murder.
In the videotaped confession, Sneed is interviewed by Detectives Bob Bemo and Bill Cook. Sneed initially tells the detectives he didn’t kill his boss, Barry Van Treese. The detectives replied that they knew he did, and didn’t act alone, and if he didn’t name his accomplice, he’d be left “holding the bag” for the murder. Detectives fed him a name: motel manager Richard Glossip. Sneed agreed to their suggestion, saying Richard had enlisted him in a robbery of Van Treese and he’d only meant to knock Van Treese out. During the interrogation, Bemo and Cook repeatedly suggested to Sneed if he implicated Glossip, he could avoid bearing sole responsibility for the murder—which could carry a death sentence.
So finally, under pressure, Sneed changed his story yet again to say Glossip asked him to kill Van Treese in exchange for thousands of dollars so Glossip could run the motel himself. This wouldn’t be the last time Sneed changed his story.
Sneed Changed His Story Multiple Times
While Richard Glossip has consistently maintained his innocence, Sneed’s story changed at least eight times.
- “I don’t really know what to say about it.” Sneed tells detectives he has no idea what happened at the motel.
- “I didn’t kill Barry Van Treese.” After being pressed by detectives, Sneed’s story changes. He says affirmatively he didn’t kill Van Treese.
- “I just meant to knock him out.” Sneed says he was only trying to rob Van Treese and he and Glossip were going to split the money.
- “Actually, Rich asked me to kill Barry so he could run the motel.” Sneed changes his story and tells police Glossip asked him to kill Van Treese in exchange for $7,000 so Glossip could take over the motel. Detectives then tell Sneed this story could save him from execution.
- “Glossip told me to pick up trash bags, a hacksaw, and muriatic acid.” At Glossip’s first trial, Sneed adds new elements to the story to say Glossip approached him several times with a detailed plan to kill Van Treese.
- “Now is the time to do it, take the hammer and do it.” At Glossip’s second trial, Sneed again changes his story, adding an anecdote about being in the same room as Glossip and Van Treese on a previous occasion, with Glossip urging Sneed to kill the motel owner, seemingly on a whim. He suggests there was no actual plan laid out by the two men.
- “There actually was a plan.” Even during the course of his testimony at the second trial, Sneed changed his story again to say there actually was a detailed plan to kill Van Treese, instigated by Glossip.
- “How high does this go?” In 2015, Sneed’s mother tells investigators her son wrote her a letter after he was arrested, admitting to the murder and saying others were involved. “You won’t believe who!” he wrote. His mother says Sneed made it sound like powerful people were involved. “How high does this go?” she asked herself. She continues to believe others were involved.
Detectives Failed to Conduct an Actual Investigation
Once Bemo and Cook led Sneed to implicate Glossip, the detectives simply stopped working the case–less than two weeks after the murder. They only interviewed 15 people, including just three of more than 20 registered guests. One witness heard two voices arguing that sounded like a man and a woman in Room 102 around the time of the murder – but detectives never pursued that lead. Nor did they search the motel property.
Glossip’s Lawyers Failed to Mount a Real Defense
Glossip couldn’t afford good lawyers. His first attorney had never tried a murder case, didn’t hire an investigator or seriously investigate the murder, called just one witness—Glossip’s girlfriend—in his defense, didn’t know how to cross-examine the state’s witnesses, didn’t show the jury the video of Sneed’s coerced accusation against Glossip, didn’t point out how Sneed’s story had changed, and even offered a guilty plea without consulting Glossip. Rich’s conviction and death sentence were so outrageous, the State Court of Appeals unanimously overturned it without hearing an oral argument—a first in Oklahoma history. The court said there was “no excuse” for Glossip’s attorney’s “unreadiness.”
In his second trial, different lawyers again failed to rigorously investigate the case, show the Sneed video, conduct effective cross examinations of witnesses, or call a single expert witness to challenge the state’s evidence. In fact, they rested their case without calling any witnesses at all. Again, Richard was sentenced to death.
Sneed Was a Known Thief and Meth Addict With a Clear Motive for Robbing Barry Van Treese
The State’s case depended heavily on Sneed’s testimony. But the jury never heard these facts:
- Sneed was using a lot of meth at the time of the murder but had no known source of income.
- New witnesses tell Glossip’s legal team Sneed’s addiction was so strong he was eating meth and shooting it straight into his veins in the weeks leading up to the murder.
- New witnesses tell the legal team Sneed was a longtime thief who robbed johns while they were with prostitutes who had lured them into motel rooms and would steal “anything not bolted down.”
- Police had been investigating Sneed’s drug deals at the motel.
Sneed had a warrant for his arrest in Texas. When he came to Oklahoma, Sneed had tried to change his name.
The Notorious Prosecutor Who Oversaw Glossip’s Trial Resigned in Disgrace
The D.A. who oversaw Glossip’s first conviction, “Cowboy Bob” Macy, resigned in the wake of a false-evidence scandal and had a long history of breaking the rules to secure death sentences – several of which were overturned by courts because of his misconduct.
Prosecutors Destroyed Evidence, Intimidated and Even Arrested Witnesses
- In 2015, Michael Scott, who spent time in a prison with Sneed, told Glossip’s legal team Sneed had openly bragged about framing Glossip. When D.A. David Prater got wind of this, he arrested Scott on a trumped up probation violation and harassed him about his testimony. Days later, a second independent witness came forward. Soon after, he had a warrant out for his arrest too.
- Glossip’s second trial attorney was accused by prosecutors of threatening Sneed (a charge he vehemently denied) and forced off the case at the last minute. The replacement lawyers had 6 months to mount a defense, but failed to do anything until just a month before the second trial.
- At the request of the D.A., police destroyed critical evidence, including items from the crime scene. They have never explained why.
Glossip Has Received Three “Last Meals” and Was Almost Executed with the Wrong Drugs
Rich has been served a last meal three times (a Baconater sandwich and fries from Wendy’s and pizza from Domino’s, which he shared with his guards), only to have stays of execution ordered each time. The third time, Glossip was left waiting in the room next to the death chamber until 45 minutes after his scheduled hour of execution when he was finally told he had received a stay. The reason for this stay was a mix-up with the execution drugs. When a Department of Corrections lawyer called Governor Mary Fallin’s office about it, the Governor’s top attorney told them to “Google” the mystery drug and proceed with the execution anyway. However, the Attorney General stepped in before the State could inject this non-approved drug into Richard’s veins. This scandal led to a grand jury investigation and multiple government resignations.
The Prosecution Continues to Withhold Evidence. What Are They Hiding?
D.A. David Prater very likely has numerous pieces of evidence that could exonerate Richard. Glossip’s attorneys have sent three letters to the D.A. (letter 1, letter 2, letter 3), urging him to fulfill his constitutional duty to turn over this evidence. But he has refused even to respond. The evidence includes:
- Surveillance video from the gas station across the street from the motel that none of Glossip’s defense lawyers have ever seen.
- Fingerprints lifted from a shard of glass from Room 102 and from inside Van Treese’s car belonging to someone other than Glossip, Sneed, or Van Treese. These fingerprints have never been searched through databases.
- All evidence taken by police in a search of Sneed’s room that could shed light on who the missing accomplice was.
- All information about the suspicious $23,100 found in the trunk of Van Treese’s car on the morning after the murder. Some of this money had blue dye on it that may have come from a bank robbery.
- Results of an alleged lie detector test prosecutors and police claim Glossip failed. There is no proof one was ever administered.
- Notes from detectives of witness statements that might contradict their later reports and the trial testimony of various witnesses.
Notes from prosecutors’ conversations with key witness William Bender before they put him on the stand. They didn’t call Bender as a witness at the first trial based on his dodgy police interview—but they called him at the second trial. Prosecutors must disclose what changed between the two trials.
Oklahoma Has Sent Innocent People to Death Row Before
- Numerous people have been wrongly sentenced to death in Oklahoma, only to later have their death sentences overturned.
- The National Registry of Exonerations documented 10 wrongful convictions from Oklahoma County alone, including two people freed from death row while Bob Macy was D.A.
Glossip’s Team Has New Evidence Casting Doubt on His Conviction
The Glossip team has 29 new witnesses and experts who have signed affidavits under oath and are ready to testify, including:
- Multiple independent witnesses locked up with Sneed who heard him say the murder was a robbery gone wrong carried out by Sneed and his girlfriend—and Glossip had nothing to do with it.
- To at least one witness, Sneed bragged about framing Glossip, and asked them to lie in court to support his story. The witness refused.
- A witness who grew up with Sneed who said Sneed had a history of meth use and burglary in Texas, that Sneed was known to be violent and “would steal anything that wasn’t bolted to the floor.”
- A witness who will testify to Sneed’s lure-and-rob modus operandi: Sneed regularly snuck into motel rooms while prostitutes were engaged with johns they’d lured there and brazenly stole from them. The same witness spoke with someone who saw Sneed’s girlfriend wearing a blood-stained shirt the night of the murder. This witness later talked to Sneed’s girlfriend, and the girlfriend said “I’m not going down for this murder.”
- Glossip’s lawyers also had experts, including several medical examiners and two forensic accountants, look at the evidence prosecutors used at trial. They found many of the facts the D.A. had alleged about the crime and the motive simply were not true.
It’s critical for Governor Kevin Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board to order a thorough and independent investigation into this new evidence before an innocent man is executed.