Why Justin Sneed decided to speak to me

Richard Glossip is set to die Sept. 30 for the murder of Barry Van Treese, a decision that is mired in controversy. Why did Justin Sneed, the man who carried out the killing, agree to speak to The Frontier after remaining silent for so long?

Since the subject of Richard Glossip’s execution began grabbing international headlines, a lot of people have been trying to speak to his accomplice in the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese, Justin Sneed.

Sneed, who carried out the brutal killing, received a life sentence in exchange for testifying against Glossip, who was convicted of planning and paying for the murder.

Glossip is set for execution Sept. 30 after receiving a two-week stay based on claims of new evidence, and the case has been mired in controversy.

Sneed has not spoken to any news outlets this year save for The Frontier. This is his decision, not ours. He may change his mind, I have no idea.

He is free to speak to whomever he wants. He wrote me a letter late last year and recently agreed to two interviews that we included as part of our ongoing coverage of the case.

The most recent was an on-camera interview that Dylan Goforth filmed for us. We thought people might want to see him answer questions for himself.

A reader on Twitter asked why I would believe Sneed’s story over Glossip’s. I’m not saying that I do. Both men are convicted criminals with tremendous incentive to lie.

My job is to try to find out what really happened when Van Treese was murdered, and make sure to seek out all sides of the story.

In case you were wondering: We accepted no terms or conditions (beyond Department of Corrections rules) for this interview with Sneed, nor did he ask for any. We would never grant them for a first-degree murder case with an execution date approaching.

The subject is far too serious for anyone to get special treatment or to remain off the record.

A lot of my fellow journalists wanted to know why Sneed agreed to speak to us, and he surprised me when he told me what his reason was the first time we met.

Fairness is part of it: He felt that we were making a sincere effort to get both sides of the story, not just trumpet one man’s story or serve someone’s agenda.

But specifically, he agreed to speak to me because of a story I wrote in 2011 that has nothing to do with the death penalty. He had someone research me, and they told him about a story I wrote about a young woman named Katie Hill, struggling through her transition as a transgender teen in Bixby, “Becoming Katie.”

The series won several national awards and accolades that I remain tremendously proud of (and Katie has since become an author, advocate and bit of a rock star), but I was puzzled to learn that her story had anything to do with Sneed’s decision.

I don’t even know if he was able to read the full series, unless someone printed it for him (the inmates at Joseph Harp don’t have internet access).

During our interview Monday, he elaborated a bit more on his reasoning: It’s because I wrote a story about someone who was just trying to live her life honestly, no matter the consequences or what other people thought about it.

Something about that spoke to him, he said.


The Frontier is proud to partner with The Marshall Project and other news outlets to continue covering upcoming executions as part of The Next To Die, a multi-newsroom collaboration tracking upcoming executions. To see scheduled executions nationwide, please visit https://www.themarshallproject.org/next-to-die