A court clerk lost her job because she released a public record to relatives of a prisoner wrongly convicted of rape in 1984 that ultimately led to his release based on DNA tests, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Sharon Snyder, a 70-year-old great-grandmother, was fired in June from the Jackson County (Missouri) Circuit Court for giving the document to the sister of Robert Nelson, the man who was wrongly imprisoned. The document was a motion that granted DNA testing to a prisoner, which Nelson’s sister followed to file her own motion, which was also granted.
Snyder was first suspended without pay after Nelson’s release, then she was fired on June 27, the Journal Constitution reported.
When asked if she could go back in time knowing that she would be fired for her actions, Snyder said she’d help Nelson all over again.
“I am so happy that he got exonerated on this charge, and felt that would happen or he wouldn’t have filed that motion to start out with,” Snyder said in an interview with Nelson on MSNBC.
Snyder insisted she was being “severely punished” and forced to retire.
Nelson was sentenced in 1984 to 50 years for forcible rape, five years for forcible sodomy, and 15 years for first-degree robbery; he insisted he was innocent, according to an Associated Press story in the Kansas City Star. Nelson filed a motion in August 2009 seeking DNA testing that was unavailable 25 years earlier, but Jackson County Circuit Judge David Byrn denied the request.
Nelson asked Byrn to reconsider two years later, but he denied the motion.
Then in October 2011, Snyder gave Nelson’s sister a copy of a motion from another case in which Byrn granted a DNA request, and that document was used as a guide for Nelson and his sister. This time, Byrn approved Nelson’s motion. DNA tests showed Nelson didn’t commit the rape, and he was freed in June.
The DNA tests led to the arrests of those who actually committed the rape, MSNBC reported.
More from the AP:
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.”
“She gave me a lot of hope,” Nelson told the AP 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.”
“I lent an ear to his sister, and maybe I did wrong,” Snyder said to the AP. “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.”
Watch below, via MSNBC: