In January 1997, Justin Sneed murdered an Oklahoma motel owner named Barry Van Treese. He has admitted as much.
In exchange for more favorable treatment, Sneed agreed to implicate and testify against Richard Glossip, the motel’s manager. The prosecution’s theory was that Richard had been embezzling from the motel and that Van Treese had come to fire him. Richard, they claimed, therefore coerced Sneed to murder Van Treese in exchange for a share of the motel’s receipts.
Based largely on Sneed’s testimony, Richard was convicted and sentenced to death.
Now, it seems obvious to Richard’s lawyers that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice. The case was never properly investigated. The police appear to have jumped to the conclusion that Richard was embezzling from the motel based on very thin evidence. For example, they never even interviewed Van Treese’s wife, who did the books for the motel.
They seemed to leap to the conclusion that Richard was a criminal who coerced 19-year-old Sneed into committing the murder. They interviewed very few witnesses. In at least one case, when a witness came forward to challenge their narrative, she was told to leave town or she would face arrest.
If the police investigation was flawed, the prosecution didn’t seem to care, according to an investigative report by the Intercept. They ignored holes in the police’s theory and sought the death penalty despite obvious weaknesses in their own case.
Richard’s attorneys for his first trial failed to challenge much of the prosecution’s case.
In 2001, finding that Richard had not received adequate counsel, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a new trial.
A second jury found him guilty in 2004.
Richard’s current lawyers, however, have discovered significant new evidence. For one thing, Sneed wrote a series of letters to Richard’s former lawyer that seem to indicate he wanted to recant his story.
Later, two separate men who had spent time in jail with Sneed reported that Sneed had boasted that he killed Van Treese and let Richard take the fall.
Also, Richard’s lawyers discovered that, between his first and second trials, the prosecution had explicitly ordered 10 boxes of evidence to be destroyed. That evidence? For one thing, the books from the motel, which Richard needed to prove he hadn’t been embezzling.
Ultimately, there simply isn’t any reliable evidence pointing to Richard as involved in the murder.
A major independent review of Richard’s case in 2022 found that Richard’s second trial was so flawed that it “cannot be relied upon to support a murder-for-hire conviction. Nor can it provide a basis for the government to take the live of Richard E. Glossip.”
So, why is Richard still on death row?