Although there was virtually no evidence against him, Richard Glossip was given the death penalty for the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese — and he was convicted based on the murderer's word alone.
While in the throes of meth addiction on January 7, 1997, Justin Sneed bludgeoned his boss Barry Van Treese to death with a baseball bat inside the Oklahoma City motel where he worked. After confessing to the murder, he received a lighter sentence by saying that his coworker Richard Glossip “ordered” the murder. And though this landed Glossip on death row, many doubt Sneed’s claim to this day.
Since 2015, Richard Glossip’s execution has been rescheduled eight times. Both state representatives, lawyers, and observers have repeatedly called out the shaky ground on which Glossip was convicted.
The pro-death penalty governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, even recognized the injustice at hand and granted Glossip a stay of execution twice but has reportedly refused to grant him another one in the future, citing that he must do whatever the Oklahoma parole board, and the law, decide.
In May of 2023, the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted Glossip a stay of execution, effectively freezing his death sentence until they decide whether to hear his case or not.
Despite hurdles and calls for his release, Richard Glossip still sits on death row today, based on nothing more than Sneed’s testimony.
The Brutal Murder Of Barry Van Treese That Put Richard Glossip Behind Bars
Justin Sneed bludgeoned Barry Van Treese to death with a baseball bat in room 102 of the Best Budget Inn in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 1997. Sneed, just 19 at the time and serving as the property’s maintenance man, murdered Van Treese for his money. At the time, Sneed was addicted to meth and had robbed hotel customers on multiple occasions.
Van Treese was the owner of the hotel, a run-down property in Oklahoma City. Van Treese helped Richard Glossip, who was 33 in 1997, run the daily operations of the hotel when he wasn’t working at his other hotel in Tulsa.
Glossip, the manager of the hotel and Sneed’s boss, said that he awoke to a scraping sound along the wall of his room at 4 a.m. A few minutes later, he saw Sneed outside of room 102 with a black eye. Glossip claimed that Sneed confessed to killing Van Treese. Glossip’s girlfriend at the time, D-Anna Wood, told Glossip not to say anything to investigators regarding Sneed’s remark.
The investigation would later find that Sneed beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat.
Physical evidence in room 102 and in Van Treese’s car pointed to Sneed as the murderer. There were fingerprints all over room 102 that matched Sneed’s. The same was true with regards to Van Treese’s car, which was stolen and moved to another parking lot. Money stolen from the car had Sneed’s DNA on it.
Although the case was strong against Sneed, things were about to get bad for Richard Glossip.
The Case Against Richard Glossip
Sneed confessed to the killing, but he said that Richard Glossip put him up to it. However, it was later revealed that an investigator coaxed that part of the confession out of the young man with promises of a lighter sentence. Sneed, who faced first-degree murder charges and the death penalty, implicated his boss to get life in prison instead.
Sneed told investigators, and a jury under oath, that Glossip had wanted to murder the Van Treese for months. Supposedly, every time that Van Treese came to town, Glossip told Sneed that he wanted to kill the owner. The reasons for this varied, ranging from Glossip wanting to own the two hotels himself to fearing that he would lose his job due to the hotel not turning a profit.
But any physical evidence against Richard Glossip was virtually non-existent. It seemed that investigators were solely working off of Sneed’s testimony.
Sneed claims that the money found by investigators in Van Treese’s car was the blood money paid by Glossip to Sneed to carry out the murder. Sneed said that Glossip offered to pay him $7,000 for the murder (although a quick review of Glossip’s finances would show that it was unlikely that he would have even had that amount of money to pay Sneed).
Despite Sneed’s claims, Glossip was not known as a violent man. Before Van Treese’s murder, Glossip had neither a criminal record nor any history of violence.
Nevertheless, prosecutors made their case against Glossip and alleged that he gradually stole money over the years due to his own lack of financial prosperity and disappointment at how his professional career was turning out. Prosecutors made these claims despite the fact that Glossip had received bonuses for 11 out of the 12 months in 1996 for bringing in significant profits to the hotel.
That said, Glossip’s delay in talking about Sneed’s confession after the murder didn’t make him look good. And with Sneed claiming that Glossip commissioned the murder, the prosecution apparently had enough to get a conviction that placed Richard Glossip on death row, where he remains today.
Cracks In The Story
Despite Sneed’s claims, witnesses say that Sneed acted alone in the murder. For one, a former cellmate says that he heard Sneed talk about killing Van Treese for money, but never once mentioned Richard Glossip paying him to do it.
Sneed’s own daughter wrote a letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board in 2015 saying, “For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. I feel his conscious [sic] is getting to him.”
And as for Sneed himself, his own story keeps changing. As recently as 2017, for example, Sneed told a documentary filmmaker that Glossip talked to him in person on the night of the murder. However, Sneed’s previous confessions alluded only to a phone call between him and Glossip and not an in-person meeting.
Of course, the fact that Sneed’s story constantly evolves casts even more doubt on Richard Glossip’s guilt.
Will Richard Glossip’s Death Sentence Be Carried Out?
Richard Glossip earned a last-minute stay of execution in 2015 when Kevin Stitt, the governor of Oklahoma, questioned the legality of the execution drugs used by the state.
Many worried that the nationwide shortage of drugs that the U.S. was experiencing at the time could lead to painful executions rather than humane ones that fit within the restraints of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
Even today, drug shortages for executions are part of a national trend. Executions continue to be carried out less and less. In 2011 and 2012, 43 people were executed for murder each year. By 2016 and 2017, those numbers dropped by half.
Public opinion is turning against the death penalty, as just 55 percent of Americans support it, the lowest figure in 40 years.
Despite shifting public opinion, time is running out for Glossip, but many keep fighting for what little time they can save.
In July 2022, Glossip received an execution date of September 22, 2022, but that changed in August 2022, when Governor Stitt granted Glossip a 60-day execution stay, allowing Glossip’s execution date to shift to December 8, 2022.
Again, Governor Stitt granted Glossip a stay in November 2022, pushing his execution date to February 2023. This stay, Governor Stitt claimed, would be Glossip’s last from him.
Then, another miracle occurred when Glossip’s execution date shifted to May 18, 2023 after Attorney General Gentner Drummond requested new execution schedules to adequately organize the short-staffed Department of Corrections.
Drummond’s office later issued a statement saying that Glossip’s stay of execution would remain in place until 2024, allowing time for an independent counsel to review his case.
The independent counsel released their decision in April of 2023, stating that the death penalty was an inappropriate punishment for Glossip, but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the viewpoint and upheld his sentence.
A month later, Glossip’s attorneys filed a motion with the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reassess Glossip’s case. On May 5, 2023, the Supreme Court halted Glossip’s May 18th execution to give the justices time to decide whether to hear the case or not. This is the last update in Glossip’s long and frustrating case.
Even though the death penalty is falling out of favor, state representatives have used their power to advocate for him, and the evidence against him is scant at best, Richard Glossip is at risk of being executed solely on the basis of one man’s statement, and that’s a horrifying fact.
After this look at Richard Glossip, read up on George Stinney, who was sent to death row as a teenager and then executed before eventually having his conviction overturned. Then, discover the story of Willie Francis, the young man who was sent to the electric chair twice — despite the fact that he may not have even been guilty.