Bobby Sneed pictured prior to and during his incarceration at Louisiana State Penitentiary. (Photos provided by family)

In March, after spending 47 years in prison, Bobby Sneed was unanimously granted parole after a hearing that lasted under 17 minutes. 

“You’ve done a great job, worked hard, and done all the things you’ve needed to do,” said Tony Marabella, one of the members of Sneed’s parole board, as he informed him that he would be voting for his release. The other members of the board followed suit, commending Sneed for his accomplishments in prison — and thanking him for his service. 

But now, over a month after his scheduled release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Sneed remains incarcerated, facing disciplinary action due to what the prison alleges was a drug overdose. His lawyer, Thomas Frampton, warns that if Sneed is officially sanctioned for contraband, he will likely have his parole rescinded — and die in prison. 

Sneed, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran, was convicted in 1975 after returning home from the war for being “principal to murder” for his involvement in a robbery along with five other men in 1974, during which an elderly man was killed. According to his parole file, Sneed was serving as the lookout as three other men entered a Bienville Parish house to carry out the robbery. The men who went into the house beat the couple who lived there — Curtis and Maude Jones — and tied them up with wire. Maude Jones was not able to escape and summon help for hours, by which time her husband was dead. 

Sneed never even entered the residence where the murder took place — and he had no other criminal history — but he was convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. According to the parole packet, some of Sneed’s co-defendants agreed to cooperate with the state, receiving reduced sentences or no time at all. One died in prison, and another was previously granted parole, leaving Sneed the only one of the six men who remains behind bars today.

Though the parole board asked very few questions of Sneed at the hearing, a number of people were there to speak on his behalf — including Kerry Meyers of the Louisiana Parole Project, and Norris Henderson of Voice of the Experienced — and promised to provide support as he transitioned out of prison. 

His family, too, was eagerly anticipating his return home.

“We were planning to meet him in Baton Rouge the day he was released with open arms to welcome him home,” one of his several siblings told The Lens last week. The sibling asked not to be identified by name or gender in this story. “He has four children. And they were all ready to come and welcome him home.” (Sneed also has several grandchildren, one of whom is a professional football player with the Kansas City Chiefs.)

Sneed was set to be released on March 29. But on March 25, he collapsed in prison, and had to be hospitalized. 

“Someone just called a family member and said that Bobby had had some type of medical issue, and they actually thought he was dead,” his sibling said. The Department of Corrections did not provide details about the medical incident, but according to Frampton, he was hospitalized for several days in an intensive care unit. 

At some point during that time he was given a drug test by prison staff, and according to prison disciplinary documents, it came back positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Sneed was written-up for possessing contraband in the prison. He has since recovered and has been transferred back to the prison, where he is being held in administrative segregation pending a hearing that is set to take place on Wednesday, May 5, according to Frampton. 

“The stakes are going to be whether Bobby dies in prison, or gets to come home and spend the final years of his life with his family members,” he said.

Frampton said that even if Sneed did have drugs in his system, that is not reason to keep him locked up for any longer. He has been appealing to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections to drop the disciplinary proceedings against Sneed. 

“If everything that prison officials are alleging is true, then Bobby has a medical problem —  substance abuse disorder,” Frampton told The Lens.  “We have private charities who are willing to foot the bill for 100 percent of inpatient drug treatment, where he can actually get the help that he needs, and apparently hasn’t received over the past 46 years. Prison officials, however, seem like they’d rather spend $24,000 a year of taxpayer money every year until Bobby dies to not treat a sick man who does not pose any sort of risk to public safety.”

Frampton is planning to be at the hearing to represent Sneed. 

“We are just at wait and see mode right now,” his sibling said. “Hopefully, that something positive will happen. All we can do at this point is stay hopeful.” 

‘Wait and see mode’

The Louisiana Board of Pardons & Committee on Parole is also waiting to see what happens at Bobby Sneed’s disciplinary hearing. Its policy says that if a prisoner receives a disciplinary report after being granted parole, the board may choose to rescind the parole without another hearing. Board of Pardons & Committee on Parole Executive Director Francis Abbott suggested that is likely in Sneed’s case. 

“The decision to grant Offender Bobby Sneed a second chance at freedom was not an easy one to come to given the second degree murder conviction for which he was incarcerated,” Abbott said in an email. “Should his parole get rescinded the Committee encourages Offender Sneed to take advantage of the certified treatment and rehabilitation programs the Department of Public Safety & Corrections has to offer and to reapply for parole consideration when eligible.”

Abbott said that Sneed would be eligible to reapply for parole again on March 8, 2022. But even then, the board will have the option of declining another hearing. Frampton said he believes it’s unlikely that Sneed will have another real shot at parole.

“If in fact his parole is rescinded, from what I can gather, the chances plummet that he ever gets parole again,” he said.

Abbott was not immediately able to provide numbers for The Lens regarding how many people who have had their parole rescinded are ever subsequently granted it. 

In a letter to Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc, Frampton asked the prison to dismiss the disciplinary charges, and instead allow Sneed to get any necessary treatment outside of prison. 

“If the Disciplinary Board Hearing results in a conviction, Bobby’s parole will almost certainly

be rescinded; Bobby will in all likelihood die in prison, costing Louisiana taxpayers $24,670.35 per year until that day arrives,” Frampton wrote.  “There is a far better option. Bobby has a robust support network—including family members and nonprofit organizations — eager to welcome him home.”

A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections did not respond to questions or repeated requests for comment before publication. 

Meanwhile, Sneed’s sibling who spoke with The Lens says they continue to call Angola to track his recovery. Even before the incident, his health has suffered. Sneed was exposed to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam, according to a parole packet, and in 2005 he suffered a stroke “that forced him to relearn how to walk, talk, and function.”  It had lasting effects. According to his sibling, he has slowed considerably, his speech is slurred, and permanently damaged one of his hands.

In addition, while at the hospital following the alleged overdose, Sneed apparently tested positive for COVID-19, putting him on oxygen for several weeks, according to his sibling. (His disciplinary record also indicated that he was positive for the disease.)

While prison officials are ensuring that Sneed is recovering, they are still concerned.

“They keep telling me that he’s doing fine,” they said. “But when I talked to him, he didn’t sound fine. I just say stay prayerful.”

‘Nothing serious’

According to his parole packet, Sneed’s last disciplinary infraction in prison was in 2016 for having cigarettes. At the parole hearing in March, a warden at Angola described his write-ups as “nothing serious.”

“Nobody is disputing that Bobby Sneed is no longer any sort of risk to public safety,” Frampton said. “So ultimately, the question is, do we want taxpayers to pay to continue incarcerating Bobby in a situation where we know he won’t get any sort of help? Or do we want private charities to help somebody live out their last years of their life, in the free world with their family, and get the medical treatment that they need?”

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. He coached sports, taught music theory, and worked as an inmate counsel, helping other prisoners with their cases. 

“He has always worked very hard to help other people get their freedom since he’s been incarcerated,” his sibling said. “He is a strong, strong advocate for helping others. He believes in justice. You know, he’ll work hard to make sure justice is served.”

Sneed’s sibling said they had talked to him about his plans for when he got out — which included continuing to do some legal work, and spending time with his family. 

“He has a big heart,” they said. “He loves his family dearly.”

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...