Barry Van Treese

Barry Van Treese

In January 1997, Richard Glossip was living with his girlfriend at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City, where he worked as a manager for one of the two motels owned by Barry Van Treese.

Van Treese and his wife, Donna Van Treese, audited their business in late December 1996 and discovered that more than $6,000 was missing from the Oklahoma City books, according to court records. Wondering whether Glossip had a hand in the discrepancy, Barry Van Treese told day desk manager Billye Hooper things “needed to be taken care of,” which Hooper took to be a reference to Glossip’s management despite not knowing for sure that money was missing.

Oklahoma County prosecutors said Glossip told Justin Sneed, a maintenance worker at the motel, that if Barry Van Treese inspected the rooms and saw that work hadn’t been done inside them, they both would be fired. Sneed was not a paid employee but was able to stay in one of the rooms in exchange for his services.

So when Glossip reportedly offered Sneed $10,000 to kill their boss on the night of Jan. 6, 1997, police said Sneed — who they alleged was “totally dependent” on Glossip due to his work arrangement — listened.

Sneed confessed to entering Room 102 using a master key and hitting Barry Van Treese with a bat before throwing him to the floor and hitting him “10 or 15” times. The motel owner gave Sneed a black eye, and photos of both men’s injuries were included in a packet of papers requesting that Glossip be granted clemency from a death sentence in the case. The effort was denied in October.

Sneed is serving a life sentence without parole for his role in the murder after pleading guilty and testifying against Glossip, who was convicted of first-degree murder with the added stipulation that his former boss was killed for remuneration. Glossip was sentenced to death Aug. 14, 1998.

His conviction was overturned on appeal, and another jury found him guilty on Aug. 27, 2004, and returned the same sentence. Since then, Glossip has taken his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court without success.

He is scheduled to die by lethal injection Sept. 16 following the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that the use of midazolam in executions is constitutional.

But hundreds of thousands of people, led by well-known anti-death-penalty advocate Sister Helen Prejean and actress Susan Sarandon, are calling on Gov. Mary Fallin to stay his execution.

Van Treese family feels his loss every day

Barry Van Treese’s sister, Alana Mileto, and her family watched Prejean and Sarandon appear on a Monday broadcast of the “Dr. Phil” show, where they presented their case for Glossip’s innocence.

The women believe there is evidence that was never presented in court that casts doubt on his guilt, and they point to a letter they said was written by Sneed’s daughter, O’Ryan Justine Sneed, in advance of Glossip’s October clemency hearing.

Sneed’s daughter has not spoken to media about the case or confirmed publicly that she wrote the letter, which wasn’t received in time for the hearing but which states that Justin Sneed is considering recanting his testimony but fears being sentenced to death himself.

A statement from Van Treese’s family sent to the Tulsa World by Mileto says the “Dr. Phil” segment was “very one-sided.” Van Treese was a “fun-loving” father and husband, and his family feels his loss every day, according to the statement, which further describes him as an honorable businessman who expected honesty and accountability from his employees.

“Over these many years our family has endured all manner of pain as a result of the death of Barry,” Mileto said in a separate statement. “The Van Treese family knows with absolute certainty the State of Oklahoma has provided the opportunity for justice to be served in this case. … We have a right as a family and as citizens of the United States of America to expect justice to be served.”

During the television show, Sarandon choked up while reading a statement from Glossip in which he continued to maintain his innocence. For his part, Sneed wrote a letter to a former Tulsa World reporter in which he discussed his and Glossip’s involvement in the crime.

Sneed was described by the state as having limited intellectual ability and a child-like demeanor, which prosecutors said put him in a good position to be dependent on Glossip.

“I have to ask, ‘How does murdering another innocent man make things better?’” Glossip wrote. “I also have a family who should not have to suffer through that. They should not have to see their father, their brother, their uncle killed. That is not justice.”

He also said the fight for his life extends to others on death row who were wrongfully convicted.

“I hope and pray my eventual exoneration will help others and that this country will finally realize just how broken our system is and how easy it is to make mistakes,” Glossip said. “If my execution ensured no other innocent man was sent to the death chamber, I am prepared to die for that cause. I have never been in trouble with the law in my life. … I was a good citizen and always tried to help others. Now I have gone from doing everything right to fighting (for) my life.”

Prejean held a press conference in Oklahoma City on Thursday and presented about 270,000 signatures requesting a stay of Glossip’s execution to Fallin’s office.

Plans to cover up death thwarted by police

Once the deed was finished early Jan. 7, 1997, Sneed said, he told Glossip what he had done and Glossip told him to drive Van Treese’s car, which had about $4,000 inside, to a nearby parking lot. By this point, Donna Van Treese was concerned about her husband because she had not heard from him and called the motel to ask when he was last seen.

“My sister and an uncle who live in Oklahoma City were on property at the motel within a short time joining the search for Barry,” Mileto said. “We later learned Glossip knew exactly where Barry was. His dead body was still lying beneath the bedding in Room 102. The room where he was beaten to death.”

In that room, Sneed said, he and Glossip took money from their boss’s wallet, put a shower curtain over a broken window and covered the body. The story for the broken window would be that it was broken during a fight, and they would use chemicals and a saw to clean the mess.

“They turned the air conditioner on high, broke the key off in the door, then left,” Mileto said. “Glossip made arrangements for the morning housekeeping crew to clean other rooms.”

Oklahoma City police officers were eventually called after Barry Van Treese’s car was found at a nearby credit union, and after hearing what they said were conflicting statements from Glossip, they searched Room 102 themselves.

The motel was described as being in “deplorable” condition, and police said only half of the rooms were habitable. Donna Van Treese testified that her husband was not as involved in motel operations in his last six months of life because her mother and her husband’s mother had both died recently, which led to the facility’s falling into disrepair.

Officers found Barry Van Treese’s body around 10 p.m. Jan. 7, and Sneed was already gone. Glossip was questioned and released and began making plans to leave town but was detained before he could do so.

“We are enormously thankful Barry’s body was discovered before their plan to dispose of it using the hacksaw, muriatic acid and trash bags was carried out,” Mileto said. “Many families of victims do not have this closure.”

In Glossip’s 2005 appeal to the state, the court stated that there was evidence that connected him with the commission of the crime. The court additionally found that he lied about Van Treese’s whereabouts and Sneed’s part in the murder because he felt like he “was involved in it.”

“He admitted knowing Sneed killed Van Treese in room 102,” the appeal states. “He knew about the broken glass. However, he never told anyone that he thought Sneed was involved in the murder until after he was taken into custody that night, after Van Treese’s body was found.”

State intends to carry out death sentence

Fallin’s office has repeatedly emphasized that Glossip has had multiple opportunities in court to prove his innocence and that two juries and several appeals court judges have determined his guilt. Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said Thursday that Sarandon and Prejean are fighting a public relations campaign and should take evidence to a judge, as Fallin does not have the power to indefinitely stay an execution.

“They can order new trials,” he said of judges. “The governor can’t. They are not doing that because they have no new evidence.”

Barry Van Treese’s uncle, Boyce Bowdon, who lives in Oklahoma City, wrote a statement commending Fallin for the “wisdom and courage to stand strong against the pressures of crusaders against the death penalty.” He also called for the end of the continuing focus on his family’s heartbreak.

“Governor Fallin recognizes that the issue before her is not whether the death penalty is barbaric and should be eliminated,” Bowdon said.

“The issue is whether a man who has been given every opportunity provided by our legal system should be given another 60 days to do what his attorneys could not do in nearly two decades. … Talk shows, Hollywood, and petition campaigns should not be allowed to undermine the authority given by our Constitution to our courts.”

Mileto said she believes that Glossip is guilty and deserves the death penalty.

“Execution of Richard Glossip will not bring Barry back or lessen the empty hole left in the lives of those who loved Barry,” she said. “What it does provide is a sense that justice has been served.”

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Samantha Vicent 918-581-8321