Heroic Action Gets Staffer Fired

By AOL Jobs/AP

A Kansas City man freed from prison three decades after being wrongfully convicted of rape considers Sharon Snyder (pictured on the right) his "angel" for giving him a public document that showed him how to properly seek DNA tests. A Jackson County Circuit judge considers the 34-year court employee an insubordinate for offering legal advice and being too chatty about courthouse matters.

Sharon Snyder, a 70-year-old great-grandmother who was fired nine months before she was scheduled to retire, sees herself somewhere in the middle and insists she would provide the same help if she had a chance to do it again.

"I don't regret what I did," she told AOL Jobs in an interview. "I am glad because it was doing right by a person." She also said she has no immediate plans to find full-time work again, but would be interested in work part-time as an advisor for battered women. (She said she is a survivor of domestic violence.)

Robert Nelson, 49, was convicted in 1984 of a Kansas City rape that he insisted he didn't commit and sentenced to 50 years for forcible rape, five years for forcible sodomy and 15 years for first-degree robbery. The judge ordered the sentence to start after he finished serving time for robbery convictions in two unrelated cases prior to the rape conviction.

Those sentences ended in 2006.

More: Unemployed Hero Saves Baby On The Way To Interview

In August 2009, Nelson filed a motion seeking DNA testing that had not been available at his trial 25 years earlier, but Jackson County Circuit Judge David Byrn denied the request. Two years later Nelson asked the judge to reconsider, but again Byrn rejected the motion because it fell short of what was required under the statute Nelson had cited.

After the second motion failed in late October 2011, Snyder gave Nelson's sister, Sea Dunnell, a copy of a motion filed in a different case in which the judge sustained a DNA request.

Nelson used that motion – a public document Dunnell could have gotten if she had known its significance and where to find it – as a guide for a motion he filed Feb. 22, 2012, again seeking DNA testing. That August, Byrn sustained the motion, found Nelson to be indigent and appointed Laura O'Sullivan, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, to represent him.

The Kansas City Police Department's crime lab concluded last month that DNA tests excluded Nelson as the source of evidence recovered from the 1983 rape scene and he was freed June 12.

"She gave me a lot of hope," Nelson said of Snyder. "She and my sister gave me strength to go on and keep trying. I call her my angel. She says she's not, but she truly is."

More: Daycare Worker Fired After Saving Babies From Fire

Five days after Nelson was released, Court Administrator Jeffrey Eisenbeis took Snyder into Byrn's office near closing time and told her the prosecutor and defense attorney "had a problem" with her involvement in the case. She was suspended without pay, ordered to stay out of the courthouse unless she had permission to be there and scheduled to meet with a human resources investigator June 20.

"At first I didn't know if my pension was going to be intact, and all I could do was curl up in a fetal position and cry," said Snyder, who had been planning to retire in March. She later found out her pension would be just fine.

Byrn fired her June 27, telling her she had violated several court rules by providing assistance to Nelson and talking about aspects of the case, even while under seal, to attorneys not involved in the matter.

The judge's dismissal letter cites numerous recorded phone conversations between Dunnell and Nelson in which they discussed Snyder's efforts, including the document she provided that Nelson used in his successful DNA motion.

"The document you chose was, in effect, your recommendation for a Motion for DNA testing that would likely be successful in this Division," Byrn wrote. "But it was clearly improper and a violation of Canon Seven ... which warns against the risk of offering an opinion or suggested course of action."

Court spokeswoman Valerie Hartman said Byrn and other court officials wouldn't comment on the story for a number of legal and ethical reasons, in addition to it being a personnel matter. Nelson's attorney, O'Sullivan, also declined to comment.

"I lent an ear to his sister, and maybe I did wrong," Snyder said. "But if it was my brother, I would go to every resource I could possibly find.

"I think I might have been the answer to his prayers."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Don't Miss: Companies Hiring Now

Related Stories

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

I became aware of this story rather late. I hope Sharon Snyder is enjoying her retirement. She is what it means to be a civil servant. Ms Snyder should be proud of her actions. I would be. I am also a retired civil servant. Government work can be very rewarding. Fate must have put you there to help this man and his family. Wonderful.

July 15 2015 at 4:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hope that judge gets accused and convicted of rape....this is like not telling someone a car is coming and they get killed and you get charged with murder

August 01 2013 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Go Sharon!

August 01 2013 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Go Sharon!!

August 01 2013 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

right and wrong don't matter. The rules matter. The judge should fire himself for allowing a clearly innocent person to remain incarcerated while the evidence to the contrary was in existence. America wake up. the government and their agencies are killing us, only because we let them

August 01 2013 at 11:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

People Listen to this Short Story: And remember I have a cast on my hand... There was an American Civilian Contractor in 1979 a 25 year old working for the US Army drawing plans for remodeling some Buildings for the Army in Europe. he was Married 1 Child his wife and child was with him in Germany at the Army's Expense. He was accused of Rape and Murder of a Woman in Florida while he was in Germany because eye witnesses identified him in a photo book in Florida as the man who kidnapped the woman at a car dealer. Mind you the date and time of the Murder in Florida and Kidnapping do not fit under any circumstances the 50 plus witnesses he had to show he was in Germany Including a Lieutenant General who was talking to him about design changes at USAREUR HeadQuarters with his staff... you cannot be two placs at one time... A warrant was issued they found him in Germany based on his Contract brought him back charged him with Kidnapping Rape and Murder then the line up at the PD and everyone who saw it happen ID'd this fella..He is serving Life no benefit of parole because the Inept Prosceutor said there was enough time for him to fly back to Florida commit the crime and return to Germany... The man was from Houston Texas, never been to Florida and no connection to the victim.. Judge sealed records his lawyer at the time left town and the courts will not hear the case.....No records of any flight no money trail 50 witnesses he was in Germany but yet the system failed and his life is over. This is why people need to stand up and be counted. No body cares I can aaaure you that. There were 16 eyewitnesses from Florida that is all the Jury Needed........Nothing hidden in this case other than 10 years later his twin brother was found dead in Florida but the court does not care. It was a twin he never knew he had. He came from a Broken family and his Father and Step Mother raised him in Houston...Like Paul Harvey used to say " Now you know the rest of the story". He is absolutely innocent....

August 01 2013 at 11:37 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Slow's comment

someone needs to take up the cause because if it is true, it will be and incredible story

August 01 2013 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What some of these heartless Prosceutors are doing to get their head count in fact commit a felony theirselves by Miscelious Prosecution on a Known Innocent, and pardont my typing and spelling I have a cast on my hand.. They are wrong and all Inmates should be allowed DNA testing if it is a factor needed in their cases. The Michael and John Arena Case in Harker Heights Texas is a true example like the rest in the innocence project that the system of Prosceutors need a panel to review them and the Judges to be sure they are not politicaly motivated to disrespect the rights of individuals. In some cases the Justice system has gone way too far and a civilian panel of rotating members should be established to review these ceberal inadiquate individuals from so much power over the common man. This lady did the right thing...and American should stand up and be counted. I am sure my words will go on deaf ears but the Constitution is there for a reason. I wrote this but I dont think anyone will listen too many people are afraid. When the Survivors come out it will be a different Ball game if you think the NSA scandal is big it wont hold water to what is up next. All legal and all truthful....That is my own opinion what I just wrote...

August 01 2013 at 10:47 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Slow's comment

you have to wonder why the courts and the police would object to DNA evidence in some cases and then build an entire case on it other times

August 01 2013 at 11:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well it is about time for someone to step up to bat to help those who need help///

August 01 2013 at 10:26 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Slow's comment

It should be the rest of us paying forward.

August 01 2013 at 11:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just goes to show how prosecutors and Judges are just scum. Just as bad as the real criminals they put away. They could care less about the truth, just convictions. That is what is wrong with the system.

August 01 2013 at 8:57 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I get the impression that Judge Bryn just did not like being exposed for the clown he is.
He would rather see this man stay in prison than allow him to be proven innocent.

So ok, she made a mistake, but........... firing Snyder does not make him right.
It makes him look like a lousy rep. for justice.

Perhaps his ego is more important to him than a mans innocence.

Sharon Snyder has some wonderfully good Karma coming her way.
Hope we get to hear about it.

July 31 2013 at 11:22 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web