'I Would Do It Again' Says 70-Year-Old Court Clerk After She's Fired for Helping Free Innocent Man From Prison

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By Leonardo Blair , CP Reporter
August 15, 2013|12:17 pm
Robert Nelson - Sharon Snyder (Photo: Screen Grab via MSNBC)

Robert Nelson, 49, (l) was freed from prison after veteran Kansas City, Mo., court clerk, Sharon Snyder, helped him file a successful motion for DNA testing that cleared him of a rape conviction. Snyder was later fired for her actions.

A defiant 70-year-old great-grandmother, who was fired from her job as a court clerk in Kansas City, Mo., nine months before her retirement because she helped to exonerate a man wrongfully imprisoned for rape, said if she went back in time she would "do it again."

"Oh, yes I would do it again. I am so happy that he got exonerated on this charge and felt that that would happen. Or he wouldn't have filed that motion to start out with," the clerk, Sharon Snyder, told MSNBC's "All In With Chris Hayes" on Wednesday.

The freed man, Robert Nelson, 49, was convicted in 1984 of a rape that he insisted he didn't commit. He was sentenced to 50 years for forcible rape, five years for forcible sodomy and 15 years for first-degree robbery, according to the Associated Press. The judge ordered that Nelson begin serving the rape sentences after he finished serving time for robbery convictions he got from two unrelated cases before the rape conviction.

Nelson completed the robbery sentences in 2006 and in August 2009, he filed a motion seeking DNA testing, which wasn't available at his trial 25 years earlier. That request, however, was rejected by Jackson County Circuit Judge David Byrn. Nelson made the request again two years later and Byrn rejected it again on a technicality.

It was at this point that Snyder stepped in. In late October 2011 Snyder, who served as a court employee for 34 years, gave Nelson's sister, Sea Dunnell, a publicly available copy of a motion filed in a different case where the judge sustained a DNA request.

Nelson then used the document as a guide for a motion for DNA testing which he filed on Feb. 22, 2012. This time the motion was sustained by Byrn who also appointed Nelson legal representation from the Innocence Project in August of that year.

The imprisoned man was eventually exonerated and release based on the new evidence; but five days after his release via the new evidence, Snyder was suspended without pay and ordered to stay away from the court unless she had reason to be there.

"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," Snyder said in the Associated Press report.

She found out her pension would be fine, but on June 27, Byrn fired Snyder for violating several court rules to help Nelson.

"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 in Snyder's dismissal letter. "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."

On Wednesday, in the MSNBC interview where she appeared alongside the man she helped free, Snyder said she felt the punishment she got was a bit harsh.

"I think they severely punished me financially by suspending me without pay. When other persons in the court system had embezzled a lot of money and they were suspended, but with pay. So I thought that was the severe punishment for me, and to make me retire long before I planned my retirement in March of next year hurt me," she said.

When asked how he coped while he was in prison trying to work on his freedom, Nelson said it was tough and he had given up hope.

"It was exhausting. At times when I was in prison, I wanted to give up," said Nelson. "I gave up hope. Then me and my sister both gave up hope," he said

When asked how he felt about Snyder, Nelson was grateful.

"I feel -- she's -- to me, she is truly my angel. Because without her help, I think I would still be in prison and probably would have died in there," he said.

Snyder also said she thinks the law should be changed to automatically grant DNA motions.

"What I did was give him a public record that he was able to use. I think that the law should be changed that judges should be taken out of the mix on deciding these DNA motions. They should automatically be granted. It will either show that they were guilty or they were innocent," she said.

 

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