Prisons

He Was Granted Parole After Serving 47 Years Behind Bars. Now the Prison Won't Let Him Leave.

"It feels like we've gone from tragedy to farce."

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Bobby Sneed had his parole granted a few months ago, after serving nearly 47 years behind bars. The 74-year-old man's release date was set for March 29—an exciting day for his four children and many grandchildren, who readied themselves to help him readjust to life outside prison walls.

But Sneed has not yet left the Louisiana State Penitentiary, widely known as Angola. Four days prior to his scheduled release, he collapsed and had to be hospitalized. During his infirmary stay, he allegedly tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines, according to his disciplinary records.

Prison officials subsequently refused to let him leave.* But their evidence was flimsy, and it took just 10 to 15 minutes for the disciplinary committee to judge him not guilty of the contraband charge. "They didn't have a complete chain of custody, so there ended up being no proof that the urine samples that tested positive for drugs actually was Bobby's," says Thomas Frampton, Sneed's attorney.

Unfortunately for Sneed—who has been in solitary confinement for more than a month now—the story didn't end there. The committee then pivoted and charged him with being in the wrong dorm when he collapsed. "If he is convicted of that charge, he'll be facing the same parole revocation," says Frampton. "It feels like we've gone from tragedy to farce now."

The parole board unanimously agrees that Sneed is no longer a risk to society. But now he could die in prison because of a petty infraction—and taxpayers will shell out tens of thousands of dollars each year to keep him there.

His status is still in flux. "I have not received any information concerning the disposition of Offender Sneed's disciplinary hearing from Louisiana State Penitentiary," Francis Abbott, the executive director of the Louisiana Board of Pardons & Parole, told me today via email.

Sneed was originally arrested in 1974 for standing guard two blocks outside a home while his accomplices burglarized it, during which time they killed one of the residents. Though Sneed didn't take part directly in the killing, he was charged with principal to commit second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Sneed filed for the court to vacate the decision, and his application succeeded. But in 1987, after a second jury heard the case, he was convicted again.

"Of the six men originally arrested for this crime, Mr. Sneed is the only one who is still incarcerated," reads his parole file. "Two of Mr. Sneed's co-defendants agreed to testify and served no time. One co-defendant struck a deal with the state at the time of Mr. Sneed's second trial and received a reduced sentence. One co-defendant died in prison and [another one] was released on parole."

Meanwhile, Sneed accumulated a record of good behavior behind bars. "While in prison Sneed has gained the status of Class B 'trusty'—a status that grants a certain amount of freedom within the prison, and is given to prisoners with a history of good behavior," writes Nicholas Chrastil at The Lens. "He coached sports, taught music theory, and worked as an inmate counsel, helping other prisoners with their cases."

No one disputes that Sneed's initial crime was bad. But how is public safety served by keeping him behind bars now? "Let's assume that Bobby is using drugs," says Frampton. "He's buying that from guards, and it's very, very clear that after 47 years, the Angola prison has not been an environment to get sober….He's not actually a danger to anyone. Nobody's alleging he's a danger to anyone. Yet nevertheless, he's still stuck in prison long after he should have been released."

*UPDATE and CORRECTION: Though the disciplinary board decided to dismiss both charges against Sneed, the Parole Board opted on Friday to revoke Sneed's parole anyway. (The original version of this story incorrectly characterized the functions of the Louisiana State Penitentiary Disciplinary Board and the Parole Board.)

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  1. Mr. Sneed knows something about what goes on inside, and someone inside doesn’t want him telling.

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  3. At 74 years old, it doesn’t seem like he would be that valuable as prison labor – does he carve Star Wars figurines for the warden by any chance?

    1. He might be valuable as a teacher.

    2. 47 years is way too long for the offense. He had no control over the murder nor intent. Yeah, he should spend time for being an accomplice to the burglary that resulted in murder. But 47 years is too long. He was not who did the killing.

  4. Angola prison started out as a slave plantation, and never really changed.

    1. The 13th amendment allows slavery as a punishment for crimes.

      1. Don’t give the GOP new ideas.

        1. Too late both sides already on it- CA needs fire fighters and OK needs chicken processors.

        2. Slave owners were Democrats.

  5. “am I being obtuse”

    1. The last thing through his head, before that bullet, must have been wondering how Andy got the best of him

  6. Life is about choices. And he had to live with his. I bet if he’s asked again to stand guard he might say no?

    1. What else did he do, that the sentencing body for his conviction took into account? Something Reason rarely bothers to explore in their pity parties over this or that convict.

      At sentencing, lots of stuff gets taken into account that wouldn’t be admissible before a petit jury. Further—though I have no idea if such was the case here—a guy might actually have committed more crimes, provable beyond a reasonable doubt, than the state wants to waste time trying. Particularly if the guy’s already getting life.

      Yes, he’s likely no longer a threat to society. But that’s not the only reason why he got, and stayed, locked up.

      1. a guy might actually have committed more crimes, provable beyond a reasonable doubt, than the state wants to waste time trying.

        And that is the reason we have Woodchippers around these parts. Either charge him with said crimes and get a conviction or fuck off.

  7. No bad sneed goes unpunished.

    1. I wonder if he feels the sneed for speed??

    2. That was unsnecessary.

  8. Now, the Star-Belly Sneeds
    had bellies with stars.
    The Plain-Belly Sneeds
    Had none upon thars.

  9. Once again, accomplice liability laws used in gross negligence!

  10. “Yes, he’s likely no longer a threat to society. But that’s not the only reason why he got, and stayed, locked up.”
    Okay. But if that was ANYONE’S decision to make, wouldn’t it have been the parole board? Are you really suggesting that there is this clandestine group that adjudicates aggravating circumstances and pronounces additional punishments in secret, and that somehow this is okay?

    1. The parole board shut him down because he allegedly pissed hot for meth. LOL at him getting it in the pen. Double LOL at the Board’s abysmal failure to maintain a chain of custody on their evidence (they evidently mixed up his samples with some other inmate’s, and can’t unfuck it.)

      Basically, I don’t care. He’s at minimum, an accomplice to a robbery homicide, and one too stupid to take a deal. Fuck him.

      I suspect part of the Louisiana C.J. system is only trying to release him because they don’t want his medical costs on their balance sheet. The other part is trying to railroad him for reasons straight out of Idiocracy. Neither makes the top 1,000 criminal justice issues that Reason ought to be looking at, IMHO.

      Start beating the drums on Atatiana Johnson’s killing, you worthless shits.

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  12. Releasing him will kill him just from the shock alone. He’s got a year at most left in him with the certain cardiovascular damage from meth. He shouldn’t have been black while imprisoned.

  13. It’s “trustee”, not “trusty”.

  14. “He’s buying that from guards”

    There’s your problem. Prosecute them and give them 10 years hard time, and the problem will magically go away.

  15. With the money it costs to keep guys like this in prison you could do something good for humanity like land a man on Mars.

  16. Alabama is corrupt and racist

    Who is surprised

    anyone
    anyone
    Bueller

    1. Yours, is an ignorant comment. This takes place in Louisiana.

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