Kansas City Judge Fires Court Employee for Helping Free Innocent Man

An elderly court employee just nine months short of retirement was fired for helping overturn the conviction of a man imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.

A Jackson County Circuit judge terminated 70-year-old Sharon Snyder's employment after 34 years in the court system because she violated a rule banning "inappropriately providing advice and discussing court matters with outsiders."

Snyder, a judge's assistant, felt personally drawn to the case of Robert Nelson, a local man convicted in 1984 of forcible rape and sodomy, and sentenced to 50 years behind bars.

Nelson's sentence didn't kick in until 2006, when he finished serving time for unrelated robbery convictions.

Three years later, Nelson filed the first of two motions petitioning the court for DNA testing unavailable at the time of his trial.

Both motions were dismissed on technicalities.

In October 2011, Snyder offered to help Nelson get the DNA test she felt he deserved by giving his sister, Sea Dunnell, a copy of a successful request filed in a different case.

Using Snyder's advice, Nelson's motion was finally sustained, and last month he was officially released from prison after the Kansas City Police Department’s crime lab found that his DNA did not match that samples recovered at the scene of the crime.

Though the paperwork Snyder gave Dunnell was public and readily available to all, neither Dunnell nor Nelson would have known where to look, and likely would have continued to have their requests rejected.

But the court found Snyder's in violation of "Canon Seven," which prohibits court officials from "offering an opinion or suggested course of action."

Though she was let go, it seems Snyder will still receive a full pension.

"I lent an ear to his sister, and maybe I did wrong," Snyder told the Associated Press. "But if it was my brother, I would go to every resource I could possibly find."

[photo via Shutterstock]