No history of violence: Richard had no history of violence and had never before been arrested. In prison, Richard has been a model prisoner, and shows no sign of “future dangerousness”.
He didn’t kill Barry Van Treese: Justin Sneed did. And Sneed got life in medium security while Richard got death.
His crime didn’t satisfy Oklahoma’s own requirements for the death penalty: Under Oklahoma law although someone convicted of murder for hire can be given the death penalty, the testimony of an alleged accomplice must be corroborated by something that would connect the defendant to the crime itself. For example, finding Richard’s DNA or fingerprints on Van Treese’s wallet or finding the wallet in Richard’s possession would satisfy this requirement. But there was no such evidence against Richard at all, and yet he was given a death sentence.
No physical evidence: There was no physical evidence whatsoever tying Richard to the murder, despite the fact that Sneed testified in the 2004 retrial (but not in the original trial) that they both went to the room after Van Treese was murdered and that Richard had pulled a $100 bill from Van Treese’s wallet and put it in his pocket. Sneed’s fingerprints, on the other hand, were discovered all over Room 102 and his DNA was discovered on a $100 bill collected from the stolen motel receipts.
Illogical motives: Why would Richard hand over $4000 to Barry Van Treese and then arrange to rob him of that money? He could have simply walked away with the receipts. Sneed also said that Richard wanted to kill Barry, keep working at the motel, and maybe take over management of the Tulsa motel, too, which just doesn’t make sense.
Motives belied by the evidence: Although according to witnesses Richard was supposed to be worried about his job performance and shortfalls in the accounts, Barry Van Treese’s brother testified at Richard’s 2004 retrial that any financial shortfalls were “really insignificant amounts of money” that would not have concerned Barry and that the motel was “very profitable indeed”. Barry had given Richard a performance bonus for 11 of the 12 months preceding the murder.
Short, poorly done investigation: The investigation into Van Treese’s death was very short, turned up very uncertain evidence against Richard, and yet the decision was made to pursue the death penalty. Justice Bryer, in his dissent in Glossip v. Gross, noted that: “In comparing those who were exonerated from death row to other capital defendants who were not so exonerated, the initial police investigations tended to be shorter for those exonerated.”
One example of the inadequacy of the investigation was the way police failed to follow up on other potential suspects in the killing. The Best Budget Inn was known as a place visited by drug dealers, prostitutes and people with troubled criminal pasts and on the night of Barry Van Treese’s murder there were several people present who certainly merited investigation but who were essentially ignored. Most notable was Richard Page, who had a long criminal history and was known to be a white supremacist. Paige had been convicted of beating a man to death with a blunt object in Arkansas for money. Page was convicted of the murder – which had a striking similarity to the murder of Van Treese – and spent 10 years in prison. Page testified at Richard’s trial that he frequently went into room 102 where he bought drugs from Richard’s brother, Bobby Glossip. Bobby Glossip manufactured and sold methamphetamine and also had a violent past. The police failed to thoroughly investigate these men (as well as others), their relationship to Justin Sneed and their possible involvement in the crime.
Inadequate, under-funded defense: Richard had two trials, the first in 1998 and the second in 2004. In his first trial, he had woefully inadequate defense, and in 2001 the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had no hesitation throwing out the verdict due to ineffective assistance of counsel. In his retrial, Richard was represented by the under-resourced Oklahoma Public Defender’s Office.
Neither jury saw critical evidence: In the original trial the Appeals court found particular fault with the defense counsel’s failure to use the videotape of Justin Sneed’s confession to impeach both Sneed and the detectives who interviewed him:
“[t]rial counsel’s failure to utilize important impeachment evidence against Justin Sneed stands out as the most glaring deficiency in counsel’s performance.”
In the retrial, the defense once again failed to use the videotape, nor did they show the jury the transcripts. At this time, the videotape not only would have provided strong evidence of the police manipulation of Sneed but it also would have shown the many ways Justin Sneed’s story changed from his 1997 interview to the 1998 trial to the 2004 retrial. Despite the defense’s failure to use the videotape, this time the Appeals court had nothing to say on this egregious omission.
Justin Sneed had a good reason to implicate Richard in the murder: The transcript of Justin Sneed’s confession makes it clear that the police intimated to him that if he told them that Richard was behind the crime that information would be taken into account by the district attorney; and that otherwise Sneed would be handed over straight away and that he would “be facing this thing” on his own. Sneed specifically asked the detectives how his confession would help him:
SNEED: So is this going to help me out any at all by telling you all this?
OFFICER: Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. This is definitely going to be better for you this way than it would be if you didn’t say anything.
In fact, by implicating Richard, Sneed avoided a death sentence and was able to make a plea bargain that got him a life sentence, a sentence he is now serving in a medium security prison.
Justin Sneed’s daughter believes her father wants to recant: Sneed’s daughter believes that Richard is innocent and that her father would like to recant his testimony, but that he is scared he will lose his plea deal if he does so. In 2015 she sent a letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board stating this.
Justin Sneed’s testimony changed over time: There are marked changes in Sneed’s confession and testimony in the two trials. The amount of money he said Richard offered him for the murder changed repeatedly and in the 2004 retrial, he gave many more details and described events which he had never before mentioned.
Not the “worst of the worst”: The Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty should be reserved for those cases that are the “worst of the worst” and “limited to those offenders who commit a narrow category of the most serious crimes and whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution.” How does this crime fit that category? How does this Oklahoma City crime merit a death sentence when Terry Nichols, convicted of 161 counts of murder in the Oklahoma City bombing, received consecutive life sentences?
Oklahoma has condemned other innocent men to death: Ten people have been exonerated from Oklahoma’s death row. Bad lawyering played a part in two of those decisions and snitch testimony played a part in four of them. Richard’s case contains both bad lawyering and snitch testimony. Add to that the short police investigation, and his case contains most of the key ingredients found in convictions of innocent people.”