by Barry Burch Jr.
A Kansas judge’s assistant of 34 years has been fired for providing a wrongly convicted man with documents to help him gain his freedom. Last month, Sarah Snyder was terminated for violating court rules by inappropriately giving advice and discussing court matters with outsiders.
Robert Nelson, a man attempting to exonerate himself from a r@pe conviction through DNA testing, had been turned down twice because his motions did not meet technical requirements. Luckily for him; however, he had help on the inside. Following the failure of the second motion in 2011, Snyder gave Nelson’s sister, Sea Dunnell, a copy of a motion filed in another case where the judge had sustained a request for DNA testing.
According to Daily Kos’s, Laura Clawson, Nelson used that motion to file for a third time in 2012. Later that year, the judge sustained the motion. He also found Nelson to be indigent, and appointed legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, Laura O’Sullivan, to serve as his legal representation. Testing showed that Robert Nelson did not commit the r@pe for which he had been convicted.
Although Snyder’s actions led to the release of an innocent man, she was fired. According to Snyder, the reason had to do with her violating numerous court rules, including providing assistance to Nelson and talking specifics of the case, even while under seal, to attorneys who were not involved in the matter.
Although the termination was procedurally correct, Snyder helped fix a wrong in the current justice system; she helped exonerate an innocent man from an atrocious and embarrassing conviction, which nearly cost him his life. Instead of being rewarded, she was punished. Nelson could not afford a competent attorney that would provide him with the necessary legal advice to free him. Without Snyder’s help, he’d still be in jail receiving denied motions.
Fortunately for Snyder, she was just several months from retirement, and she will still receive her pension. Nelson was convicted in 1984 of r@ping a woman and robbing her. He was released on June 12 after DNA tests revealed that he was not one of the individuals in the 1983 attack.