Court Clerk Fired For Helping Free Wrongly Convicted Man

David Cornell - Author

Aug. 15 2013, Updated 7:17 a.m. ET

A court clerk was fired for helping to free a wrongly convicted man.

You know the story of the Good Samaritan, where one person helps another just because it’s right, even though they don’t really know each other. This Kansas court clerk was fired for doing just that. Only nine months before retirement, 70-year-old Sharon Snyder was fired from her job of 34 years for allegedly defying legal protocol to help an innocent man clear his name.

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Robert Nelson was being kept in prison for rape, a crime of which he had apparently been wrongly accused, and Sharon Snyder showed him a publicly available document concerning DNA testing. In 1983, when Robert Nelson had been convicted, DNA testing was not an available option. Since then, Judge David Byrn, who put him in prison in the first place, denied his request for the service due to lack of necessary documents. The third time, in 2009, Robert Nelson’s sister Sea Dunnel contacted Sharon Snyder and was shown a case of sustained motion for retrospective DNA testing.

The new form they used worked, as Robert Nelson was given assistance from the Innocence Project. The Kansas City Police excluded Robert Nelson as a source for the evidence used in his initial conviction, and in the end, he was free to go.

Robert Nelson calls Sharon Snyder, the court clerk who was fired, his angel for her assistance in the case, “She gave me a lot of hope. 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.”

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Sadly, such assistance was against proper protocol, said Judge David Byrn in a letter, “The document you chose was, in effect, your recommendation for a Motion for DNA testing that would likely be successful in this Division. 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.”

Apparently it’s against the law for a court clerk to help a wrongly convicted man prove his innocence. Sharon Snyder feels she did nothing wrong, and says she would do it again.

What do you think of the court clerk being fired for helping a wrongly convicted man prove his innocence?


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