Q: What is the evidence against Richard Glossip that has led the State of Oklahoma to try to put him to death?
A: The only evidence against Richard Glossip is a story made up by the actual, admitted killer, Justin Sneed, a known thief and meth addict with a criminal record, in order to save himself from death row.
On January 7, 1997, in Room 102 of the Best Budget Inn motel in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Sneed, the 19 year-old motel maintenance man who was addicted to meth, beat motel owner Barry Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. Van Treese was also stabbed. In a videotaped confession with police, Sneed–whose fingerprints and DNA were all over the crime scene and on money he stole from Van Treese’s car–admitted to killing Van Treese. At one point during the confession, he described the crime as a botched robbery, but changed his story about the killing eight times throughout the entire interrogation. He only implicated motel manager Richard Glossip––a man who had never been in trouble with the law–in a murder-for-hire plot after detectives fed Glossip’s name to him and suggested that if he didn’t accuse Glossip of orchestrating the crime, that Sneed could be executed. That’s all the “evidence” there was against Glossip. No DNA. No fingerprints. No witnesses to corroborate his statement. Just the admitted killer’s story, a story that would change multiple times during Glossip’s trials as well.
Q: How did Sneed change his story?
A: While Richard Glossip has consistently maintained his innocence in the murder of Barry Van Treese, Justin Sneed’s story has changed multiple times. During his videotaped confession with Detectives Bob Bemo and Bill Cook, Sneed initially tells the detectives that he didn’t kill Barry Van Treese. The detectives reply that they knew he did, and that he didn’t act alone, and that if he didn’t name his accomplice, he’d be left “holding the bag” for the murder. The detectives feed him a name: motel manager Richard Glossip. Sneed agrees to their suggestion, saying Richard had enlisted him in a robbery of Van Treese but that he’d only meant to knock Van Treese out. During the interrogation, Bemo and Cook repeatedly suggest to Sneed if he implicates Glossip, he could avoid bearing sole responsibility for the murder—which could carry a death sentence. So finally, under pressure, Sneed changes 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. At Glossip’s first trial, Sneed adds new elements to the story, claiming Glossip approached him several times with a detailed plan to kill Van Treese. At Glossip’s second trial, Sneed again changes his story, suggesting that there was no plan to kill Van Treese, and that Glossip urged him to do it on a whim. Then, during the same testimony, Sneed reverses course again. “There actually was a plan,” he said.
It is difficult for a liar to maintain an ongoing lie, because there is no consistent truth to fall back on and because the liar often gets mixed up around what they had previously lied about versus what they had been more truthful about. So, as in Sneed’s case, they change their story over the course of time. Truth tellers, on the other hand, are very consistent because they have the truth on their side and their memory of it tends to be very consistent over time.
Q: Did Sneed come up with the accusation about Richard Glossip on his own?
A: No. Before Detectives Bemo and Cook ask Sneed any questions about the crime, they tell him what they want to hear, saying “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?….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 the detectives prompt him repeatedly with Rich’s name, Sneed finally says, “Okay. Rich told me that he would split what money we could get out of Barry.” He then describes his crime in detail to match the physical evidence. At the end of the confession, he seems to remember he is supposed to be implicating Rich, and says, “Actually, Rich asked me to kill Barry…” This was the only explanation detectives got for why Richard Glossip, who, as motel manager, regularly had access to tens of thousands of dollars in cash, would want 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 the detectives had an answer on tape and that was good enough for them. Prosecutors then filed capital charges against Sneed, but told him they would take the death penalty off the table if he’d tell the story again to a jury in Glossip’s capital murder trial.
Q: Where can I watch Justin Sneed’s video taped confession?
Q: What were the past criminal histories of Glossip and Sneed? And did a jury hear about this?
A: Richard Glossip had never been in trouble with the law before. Whereas Justin Sneed was a known thief and meth addict with a clear motive for robbing Barry Van Treese. But the jury never heard these facts about Sneed.
Q: How thorough of an investigation did detectives conduct after arresting Sneed and Glossip?
A: Once Detective Bemo and Detective 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 the more than 20 guests registered at the motel at the time of the murder. One witness staying at the motel 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 properly search the motel property.
Q: Where is Justin Sneed now?
A: Justin Sneed is currently serving a life sentence in a medium security prison. Richard Glossip sits on death row, six stories underground, in a windowless cell. He only leaves his cell for one hour a day, for exercise, which is still indoors.
Q: Richard Glossip has had two trials, two appeals, and two parole board hearings, all of which found him guilty and deserving of execution. Hasn’t the evidence been heard and justice done?
A: Glossip had two trials and two appeals, with the second appeal being rejected in July 2013. All of the new evidence and new witnesses uncovered by Glossip’s current legal team and the two independent investigations has come to light since 2015. The DA files hidden from the defense for the last 26 years were finally opened for review in January of 2023. No jury has ever seen these new pieces of evidence or heard from these new witnesses. Ultimately, this evidence reveals that the murder of Barry Van Treese was a botched robbery carried out by Justin Sneed, that Richard Glossip wasn’t involved, and finally, that Glossip did not receive a fair trial.
That is why 62 Oklahoma state legislators–including 45 pro-death penalty Republicans–and pro-death penalty Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond agree that justice has not been done in this case, and that Glossip deserves a new trial. Even if you support the death penalty, none of us want to see an innocent man killed for a crime he did not commit. The State of Oklahoma cannot afford to get this wrong.
Q: Why was Glossip convicted twice if there is such little evidence against him?
A: 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 then girlfriend—in his defense, didn’t know how to cross-examine the State’s witnesses, didn’t tell the jury about Sneed’s long criminal history and meth addiction, 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 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 or experts to defend Richard Glossip at all. Again, Richard was sentenced to death because the only story and witnesses presented to the jury came from the prosecutors.
Q: What do the new witnesses who have come forward have to say that casts doubt on Glossip’s conviction?
A: Since 2015, Richard’s new legal team has been investigating the facts of the case.Hundreds of potential witnesses were interviewed, and some had a lot to say even 20 years later. In total, 29 new witnesses and experts have come forward. They have signed affidavits under oath and are prepared to testify as to what they know and saw. It is clear now that Justin Sneed told two different stories–the first, a disjointed murder-for-hire scheme he presented to police (and which there is no evidence to support), and the second, the story he told his buddies in jail, that this was a robbery gone bad planned by Sneed and his girlfriend (which matches the forensic evidence).
In fact, multiple witnesses who had been locked up with Sneed are ready to testify that they heard him specifically say that the murder was a botched robbery carried out by Sneed and Sneed’s girlfriend—and that 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. One witness 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.” Other witnesses noted that Sneed had a warrant for his arrest in Texas, that when he had come to Oklahoma he had tried to change his name, that at the time of the murder he was so addicted to meth that he was eating it and shooting it into his veins, and that he also had no source of regular income at the time. Witnesses speak to Sneed’s history of burglary and violence, with one saying that Sneed “would steal anything that wasn’t bolted to the floor.” No jury ever heard any of this information.
Q: What did two new independent investigations find about Glossip’s conviction?
A: That Richard Glossip’s conviction should be overturned.
The Reed Smith Independent Investigation – In 2022, at the request of several Republican Oklahoma state legislators, international law firm Reed Smith conducted an independent investigation of the case. More than 30 attorneys, three investigators, and two paralegals spent more than 3,000 hours poring over 146,000 pages of documents, and interviewed 37 police and civilian witnesses, seven jurors, two experts, and Richard Glossip.
Reed Smith found new evidence that contradicts, one by one, the findings presented to the juries in Glossip’s two trials, evidence that the jurors Reed Smith interviewed said they “wish they’d seen.” The investigation ultimately found that if a jury was presented with all the evidence now available, no reasonable juror would find Glossip guilty. “The 2004 trial and all of its failures can neither be relied on to support a murder for hire conviction nor as a basis for the government to take the life of Richard E. Glossip,” the report concluded.
Highlights of the new evidence uncovered by Reed Smith’s investigation:
- The jury didn’t see the videotaped interrogation of Sneed, which clearly shows detectives contaminating that interrogation by mentioning Glossip’s name six times in twenty minutes and de facto procuring Sneed’s implication of Glossip by laying out a rhetorical “connect-the-dots” blueprint by which Sneed could confess, point a finger at Glossip, and save his own life. “Since Sneed’s testimony was the sole evidence that Glossip planned the murder and hired Sneed to carry it out, Glossip’s conviction appears to be significantly tainted,” reads the report.
- The jury never saw evidence of Sneed’s drug use, criminal and violent history, or testimony from witnesses describing his “meth rages.”
- The jury never saw or heard evidence that would have established that so-called witnesses for the prosecution, like disgraced former law enforcement official Cliff Everhart lacked credibility altogether and indeed may have interfered with or impeded a proper police investigation, as well as perpetrated crimes related to the murder themselves.
- The jury received incorrect jury instructions that allowed them to set aside as optional the need to find corroborating evidence to find Glossip guilty. One juror said “the jury instructions were very persuasive.”
- The jury never saw significant evidence of Sneed’s motives for conducting this assault on his own: that he needed money–in part to support his illegal drug habit–that he knew Van Treese carried cash and/or kept cash in his car, that he was upset with Van Treese for not paying him for his work at the motel, and that he was experiencing the after-effects of taking methamphetamines right before the crime.
According to the Reed Smith report, “If the jury had been presented with the full picture of Sneed’s true character, we believe they would have had no problem concluding he was capable of committing this crime on his own, whether it was a robbery gone bad or an intentional killing.”
The Attorney General’s Appointed Independent Counsel Investigation – In 2023, Oklahoma’s pro-death penalty Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond opened Oklahoma County District Attorney files that had long been hidden from Glossip’s defense. He then appointed his own independent counsel to conduct a comprehensive review of Glossip’s murder conviction and death sentence, including an investigation of these newly opened files. At the conclusion of his review, the investigator declared: “[I] believe the numerous and appellate defects throughout the history of this case can be remedied only by a retrial.” Shortly thereafter, Drummond announced that “after thorough and serious deliberation, I have concluded that I cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip.”
Q: Why have 62 Oklahoma legislators and the Oklahoma Attorney General called for a new trial?
A: 62 Oklahoma state legislators, including 45 pro-death penalty Republicans, and pro-death penalty Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond are calling for the conviction to be vacated because of the conclusion of two independent investigations (one requested by a group of legislators and one by the AG) that Glossip’s conviction is unreliable and he must not be executed.
In early 2023, after completion of the second independent investigation, Attorney General Drummond asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) to set aside Glossip’s conviction and remand the case to the district court. That request was denied on April 20, 2023.
Then, during a hearing of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, AG Drummond personally presented on behalf of the State and asked for clemency. It was the first time in Oklahoma history that an Attorney General had done so. In a letter to the Board, AG Drummond wrote: “Based on the complete record including the new evidence the jury did not hear, it would represent a grave injustice to execute a man whose trial conviction was impugned by a litany of errors, that when taken in total would have created reasonable doubt. No execution should be carried out under such questionable circumstances.”
On April 26, 2023, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board split 2-2 on Glossip’s clemency request. This resulted in a denial of clemency under State law. The Board’s fifth member was recused because his wife was the lead prosecutor in Glossip’s case; no unconflicted replacement was seated.
Attorney General Drummond and Glossip’s defense team then filed jointly, asking the OCCA for a stay of execution, and the case was considered by the United States Supreme Court, which stayed Glossip’s execution in May 2023. Shortly thereafter, AG Drummond filed a reply brief calling for Glossip’s conviction to be vacated.
Q: What will a third trial accomplish that the other two didn’t?
A: In Glossip’s two trials, his inexperienced lawyers failed to mount any real defense. After Glossip was sentenced to death, 29 new witnesses and experts have come forward with new evidence casting doubt on his conviction–evidence no jury has ever heard. Two independent investigations have confirmed these doubts, and multiple pro-death penalty Republicans have said that Glossip should not be executed. Even if you support the death penalty, nobody wants an innocent person put to death. In a new trial, a jury can finally hear all of the evidence and decide once and for all if Richard Glossip is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Q: Who originally prosecuted Glossip and what was that D.A.’s record like?
A: The District Attorney who oversaw Glossip’s first conviction, “Cowboy Bob” Macy, had a long history of breaking the rules to secure death sentences–several of which were overturned by courts because of his misconduct. He ultimately resigned in disgrace in the wake of a false-evidence scandal.
Q: Did law enforcement actually intimidate and arrest potential witnesses who could have cleared Glossip?
A: Yes. 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. In 2015, Michael Scott, who spent time in prison with Sneed, told Glossip’s legal team that 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.
Q: What evidence has law enforcement withheld or destroyed?
A: At the request of the District Attorney’s office, police destroyed a critical box of crime scene and financial evidence. They have never explained why. Prosecutors also refused to turn over multiple pieces of evidence that could exonerate Glossip, including surveillance video from the gas station across the street from the motel, fingerprints lifted from a shard of glass from Room 102 and from inside Van Treese’s car that belong to someone other than Glossip, Sneed, or Van Treese, all evidence taken by police in a search of Sneed’s room, all information about the suspicious $23,100 found in the trunk of Van Treese’s car after the murder (with some of the money covered in blue dye that may indicate that it came from a bank robbery), results of an alleged lie detector test prosecutors and police claim Glossip failed, and notes from detectives about witness statements that might contradict their later reports and/or the trial testimony of various witnesses.
Q: How many execution dates has Richard Glossip had?
A: Richard has had 10 separate scheduled execution dates, and has been so close to execution that he has received three last meals. The third time, Glossip was left waiting in the cell next to the death chamber until 45 minutes after his scheduled 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 the State having the wrong drugs, 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.
Q: Has Oklahoma sent innocent people to death row previously?
A: Yes. Numerous people have been wrongfully 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 “Cowboy Bob” Macy–who prosecuted Glossip–was District Attorney.
Q: Since Justin Sneed has tried to recant his testimony in the past, what would happen if he did recant and it became clear that he committed the murder without Richard Glossip’s direction?
A: Recently new evidence has emerged that Sneed previously asked his attorney several times over the course of 11 years about recanting his testimony against Glossip. If Sneed were to officially recant now, likely nothing would legally happen to him, but he could save Richard Glossip’s life by coming clean.
Q: What is the current status of the case?
A: Things are changing regularly with Richard’s case. Please visit our Current Status of the Case page for the latest.
Q: What can I do to help Richard Glossip’s case?
A: There are several ways you can take action. First, please sign our petition to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, to tell him that the State of Oklahoma must not execute an innocent man.
If you are an Oklahoma resident, please email your state representative to send them the same strong message. We hope you will also stay up to date on the case by signing up for our email list on our homepage, and following us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram.