Bobby Sneed, shortly after the May 2021 vote to deny his parole.

Less than two months after Louisiana’s parole board unanimously voted to grant 74-year-old Louisiana State Penitentiary prisoner Bobby Sneed his freedom, board members met on Monday to reconsider. This time, they voted to deny parole. 

The reason for the denial was an alleged drug overdose that occured days before his release. Sneed denies taking drugs and was cleared of a contraband charge by the prison’s own disciplinary board. Even so, a parole board member on Friday moved to rescind the board’s March vote to allow Sneed to go free. 

That meant the board had to meet again on Monday to formally reconsider Sneed’s parole. And after several tense exchanges between Thomas Frampton, Sneed’s lawyer, and Tony Marabella, the parole board member who initiated the rescission of Sneed’s parole, members voted unanimously to keep Sneed behind bars. 

It means that Sneed, who has been locked up for 47 years, will likely end up spending at least another year in prison — if not many.

Sneed was initially granted parole on March 15, and was scheduled to be released from prison on March 29. But just days before his release date, he collapsed in prison and had to be hospitalized. Prison officials performed a drug test on Sneed, and alleged that it came back positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Rather than being released when Sneed returned from the hospital, he was put in restrictive housing pending a hearing with the prison Disciplinary Board. Frampton feared that if found guilty of the disciplinary report, his parole would be revoked, and Sneed — who has previously suffered a stroke — would face the possibility of dying in prison. 

But at a disciplinary hearing last week, Sneed was cleared of the contraband charge. According to Frampton, the board indicated that they would instead pursue a new charge, alleging Sneed had been in the wrong dorm when he collapsed. But the next day the board dropped all charges against Sneed. 

Still, on Friday, the executive director of the state Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole announced that Sneed’s parole had been rescinded. At the rehearing on Monday, Marabella said that despite the fact that Sneed was acquitted of his charges by the disciplinary board, the parole board was in possession of evidence that showed that Sneed had taken drugs. In addition to the positive test, they said that Sneed had confessed to medical personnel at the hospital. Sneed denied confessing to anything, saying he had been unconscious, and denied taking any drugs. 

The hearing took place over objections from Frampton, who told the board that he had not had a chance to talk to Sneed prior to the hearing, that witnesses had not been given sufficient notice to testify on his behalf, and that he had been denied both medical records and procedural records related to the parole rescission.

The board, however, was not interested in adjudicating the allegations against Sneed, or whether or not the revocation was proper, on Monday. 

“We have all the facts that we’re relying on today,” Marabella told Frampton at the hearing. “Now your client has denied all of this stuff. And we accept that.”

Following the hearing, Frampton said he thought the hearing was illegal. 

“Whatever that hearing was, it didn’t come close to complying with Louisiana law,” Frampton said. “It’s cruel and senseless.”

‘I was unconscious’

When Marabella questioned Sneed about what happened when he collapsed on March 25, he denied having taken drugs, or admitting it to anyone. Marabella asked if he was denying that he told medical staff that he had taken drugs.

“I was unconscious,” Sneed replied.

Frampton objected that neither he nor Sneed had been provided with the evidence that the board was using to make their determination about what actually occurred when Sneed collapsed.

“We have no idea what records the parole board is referring to,” Frampton said. “We’ve repeatedly asked for them again and again and have been denied by prison authorities and by Executive Director [Francis] Abbott. So I’d ask if the board would like Mr. Sneed to respond to specific allegations, that we have notice.” 

Frampton also made the case that Sneed had already been acquitted by the prison’s disciplinary board after a three-hour hearing last week. 

“He was adjudicated innocent in Angola, precisely because the board, I believe, found material inconsistencies between what different LSP employees had said and put in the reports and what had actually happened — which I can explain to the board if given that opportunity,” Frampton said.

He said that there was no evidence that the urine tested by prison officials was actually Sneed’s. Frampton did not elaborate on the issue with the urine in previous interviews with The Lens, but in an interview with Reason, he said that there was a chain of custody problem with Sneed’s tested urine sample.

“The reason Mr. Sneed was found not guilty of all charges, is because in fact, there’s no evidence that this that the urine that was tested —that I believe the board is referring to, and I don’t know if there’s other medical records —  but the urine that was the basis of all the proceedings was not Mr. Sneed’s,” Frampton said at the hearing. “And, in fact, there was a second set of medical records that were not disclosed, but I was able to obtain independently that indicated contradictions between signed sworn statements from different [prison] officials.” 

The board did not address the Disciplinary Board decision to acquit Mr. Sneed during their questioning on Monday, and following the hearing, Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole Executive Director Francis Abbott said that the parole board had not even taken into account the disciplinary board’s decision when deciding to rescind Sneed’s parole. 

“We did not consider the disciplinary board action or inaction at all, we had a totally different set of factors that we considered outside of the disciplinary report and their verdict,” Abbott said. 

Sneed said at the hearing that he was still unsure of what led to his hospitalization on March 25.

“All I want to say is that I wish I could remember what happened,” Sneed said. “I still don’t know what happened. I’m still trying to find out what happened”

Lawyer says parole board director offered a deal

At the hearing on Monday, Frampton also said that on Thursday, prior to the rescission of Sneed’s parole, Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole Executive Director Francis Abbott attempted to negotiate with him what Frampton described as a “plea bargain on behalf of the Board,” by offering to resolve the issue if Sneed agreed to go to a treatment program — the Steve Hoyle Intensive Substance Abuse Program — in the Bossier Parish Correctional Center for nine months. 

“I hadn’t spoken yet with Mr. Sneed,” Frampton said at the hearing. “I still haven’t spoken with Mr. Sneed. This is literally the first time Mr. Sneed has heard this.”

Frampton said that the next day, after he declined to agree to the deal, Abbott informed him that Sneed’s parole had been rescinded. 

“He said, ‘That’s what happens. Mr. Sneed didn’t want Steve Hoyle. That’s the decision,’” Frampton said at the hearing. “I think this is highly improper. I think the only reason we are here is because of this improper plea bargaining attempt.”

Marabella cut him off. 

“I’m going to stop you now,” he said. “You’ve made your points. The reason we are here is because your client violated acts by having drugs in his system and admitting it to medical personnel. That’s why we’re here. Now, is there a question about treatment? Absolutely. We would love for him to get treatment. That’s what this whole system is about.”

In an interview on Monday, Abbott said he had a conversation with Frampton and they discussed treatment options for Sneed. But he denied having made any suggestion that he would resolve the issues if Frampton agreed on behalf of Sneed to treatment, and said he wasn’t in a position to make those decisions.

“I’m not a decision maker in any way, shape or form with the board of pardons,” Abbott said. “I’m just the executive director. I serve as a liaison between the board of pardons and committee on parole, and its various stakeholders.”

He said treatment was “an option for [Frampton] to recommend on behalf of his client.” 

“I don’t really know about a plea bargain,” Abbott said. “I think Mr. Frampton keeps trying to put a parole hearing into the parameters of court proceedings, and they’re two totally different things. So I think he has a lot to learn about the parole hearing process.”

Even before Sneed was given a disciplinary hearing and subsequently cleared, Frampton argued that even if he was guilty of using drugs while in prison, that was no reason to rescind his parole. In a letter to Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc, Frampton wrote that Sneed could get better treatment options outside of prison, and that it would be a waste of taxpayer money to keep him there. 

“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.”

Sneed was convicted in 1974 of being “principal to murder” after he served as a loookout during a robbery during which an elderly man was killed. Sneed did not enter the residence, nor did he have any criminal history, according to a parole packet put together by LSU’s Law Clinic prior to his first hearing. Still, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. 

Frampton said that he felt Sneed was no longer a threat to public safety — as evidenced by the parole board’s initial decision to let him go. Sneed’s family, including four children, several grandchildren were looking forward to his release, according to a sibling who spoke to The Lens.

Sneed will be eligible to apply for another parole hearing in March of 2022, Abbott said.

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...