In 1984, Robert Nelson was convicted of forcible rape and sodomy in Kansas City and was sentenced to 55 years in prison for his crimes. Nelson always claimed he was innocent of these crimes.
In August 2009, after spending nearly thirty years in prison, Nelson filed a motion seeking DNA testing of crime scene evidence – testing that had not been available at his trial in 1984 – but the judge denied his request. In 2011, Nelson again filed a motion for the DNA testing and Judge David Byrn again rejected the motion saying it fell short of what was required under the statute Nelson cited.
After Nelson’s second motion failed, a court employee, 70-year-old Sharon Snyder, gave Nelson’s sister a copy of a motion for a DNA request filed in a different case in which Judge Byrn sustained the request. Nelson then used that motion as a guide to file another correctly written motion seeking DNA testing on February 22,2012. In August 2012, Judge Byrn sustained the motion and because Nelson was found to indigent, appointed a lawyer to represent him.
DNA testing by the Kansas City Police Department’s Crime Lab excluded Nelson as the rapist and he was freed from prison in June 2013.
Nelson sees Snyder as “his angel” because she not only gave him hope, but guided him in the correct way to file the DNA testing motion by giving his sister a copy of an approved motion.
Unfortunately Snyder’s employer did not see her as an angel, but as an insubordinate court employee for offering legal advice and being too chatty about courthouse matters.
Five days after Nelson was released from prison, Snyder was told by Court Administrator Jeffrey Eisenbeis that the prosecutor and defense attorney “had a problem” with her involvement in Nelson’s case. Snyder was then suspended without pay and ordered to stay out of the courthouse.
On June 27, Judge Byrn fired Snyder for violating several court rules by providing legal assistance to Nelson.
“The document you chose, in effect, your recommendation for a Motion for DNA testing that would likely be successful in this Division,” Judge 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.”
Although Snyder said perhaps what she did was wrong, she would provide the same help if she had a chance to free a wrongfully convicted individual. “I lent an ear to his sister…but if it was my brother, I would go to every resource I could possible find.”