On The Frontier today, we published this story about the upcoming execution of Richard Glossip and a letter from his accomplice in the 1997 killing of Barry Van Treese.
My story features a letter from Justin Sneed that has never been published before.
Richard Glossip began contacting me when I was a reporter at the Tulsa World, asking us to look into his case and consider writing something about it before his first scheduled execution in January 2015.
His was one of several executions stayed after Clayton Lockett’s botched execution in April 2014. He was scheduled to die after Charles Warner, who was executed Jan. 15. But that was right before the Supreme Court agreed to hear Glossip v. Gross, a challenge by Oklahoma inmates to the drug protocol used to kill Lockett.
Warner was not granted a stay, but the court only needed four votes to grant certiorari and hear arguments about the drug protocol.
The World and the Oklahoman operate under a content-sharing agreement, and because Glossip’s case happened in Oklahoma County, we agreed to allow an Oklahoman reporter who’d already spent extensive time researching the case handle Glossip’s story.
The court battle over Oklahoma’s execution protocol and our own related public records lawsuit were keeping us busy enough.
But Glossip was actively seeking media coverage, writing me letters and calling to talk about his case.
I read the clemency packet prepared by the Attorney General’s office, looked at the photos of Van Treese’s bloody body, and looked up old articles about Glossip’s two separate trials.
I asked Glossip direct questions about the evidence used against him in court. His answers were sometimes evasive, to be honest. His lawyers have done a great job raising questions about his case.
But as a result of reporting extensively on Oklahoma’s corrections system since 2011, I have volumes of mail from inmates who claim they were wrongfully convicted. This is not my first rodeo.
In our conversations, I asked Glossip what his former girlfriend would say if I tracked her down.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
I asked him what Sneed would say. Glossip brought up a letter purportedly written by Sneed’s daughter, saying her father regretted testifying against Glossip.
But there was a simpler way to really answer that question: I wrote Sneed in prison and asked him.
Sneed’s response to me arrived after we’d agreed to let the Oklahoman handle the story while I was still working at the World. It answered some of my questions very directly, but I would still like to talk to him more about the case.
He hasn’t responded to follow-up letters or interview requests in the months since.
I tucked Sneed’s letter away in a file in case the editors changed their minds about wanting to let the Oklahoman handle coverage of Glossip’s case.
When all executions were put on hold to let the U.S. Supreme Court hear arguments about the state’s drug protocol, I’m guessing any planned Glossip stories were put on hold as well.
Ziva Branstetter and I left the World on April 20 to launch The Frontier, the same day we learned we were Pulitzer finalists for our coverage of the Lockett execution.
Ziva attended the Supreme Court arguments for Glossip v. Gross. The Court ruled 5-4 against the inmates’ claims that Oklahoma’s use of midazolam presented an unacceptable risk for a constitutionally inhumane execution.
The state of Oklahoma again reset his execution date, this time for Sept. 16.
Glossip began calling again. The Intercept wrote an article about him, and Sister Helen Prejean spoke at a press conference on his behalf.
Ziva recorded several phone interviews with him, and we plan to share all of those in our coverage in upcoming weeks.
I dug out Glossip’s old letters to me, along with Justin Sneed’s. Now you can read them here, along with the state’s clemency packet (minus the gruesome crime scene photos).
I resumed searching for Sneed’s daughter. I still haven’t been able to find her, or get her to respond to calls, emails or letters.
Sneed’s letter to me in no way exonerates Glossip, in case you were wondering.
“If the Truth crucifies, then I do not know what else to do,” he wrote.
Sneed wrote that it wasn’t all about the money Glossip offered him, but he obeyed an order out of loyalty.
He says that his story in entire truth may “crucify” Glossip further. It seems to imply that there are still things about the crime that we don’t know, however.
Since Glossip is scheduled to be executed in a few weeks, now seems like an excellent time for both men —and anyone else who may know what happened — to start telling the whole truth, if they haven’t already.
UPDATE: If you haven’t seen it yet and are interested in Glossip’s case, this story by Phil Cross of Fox 25 in Oklahoma City is also worth checking out. It features part of the Justin Sneed interrogation tape in question.