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Fired for help in exonerating wrongly convicted man, court clerk says she 'would do it again'

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Sharon Snyder
Sharon Snyder

A court clerk who helped exonerate a man wrongly imprisoned for rape was fired in June, and now she's speaking out about the ordeal. Robert Nelson was convicted of rape in 1984. After two previous motions for DNA tests that could clear his name were rejected, 70-year-old clerk Sharon Snyder decided to step in and better his odds. She provided Nelson's sister with a successful DNA motion from another case, giving Nelson a better idea of how to properly seek the tests. His third request was granted, and ultimately Nelson was cleared of a 1984 rape conviction; he'd been serving time for the crime since 2006.

Fired for providing a public document

But for her good deed, Snyder was fired from her position nine months before she was due to retire. Jackson County Circuit Judge David Byrn said Snyder had gone too far in assisting Nelson, violating a number of court rules in the process. Specifically, by providing Nelson's sister with a motion that could help her brother's case, Snyder was found to violate Canon Seven, which the judge said "warns against the risk of offering an opinion or suggested course of action." Thankfully Snyder's pension remained intact despite the forced exit, and in an interview on MSNBC, she says she'd do it all over again. "I think that the law should be changed, that judges should be taken out of the mix on deciding these DNA motions, and they should automatically be granted."

Last month, the FBI launched an internal investigation that will see the bureau revisit over 2,000 cases that hinged on hair sample evidence. The study will examine "whether analysts exaggerated the significance" of those samples and seek to uncover any cases where results were reported inaccurately. DNA tests, the same tool that helped Robert Nelson find freedom, will be provided in instances where the FBI discovers itself to be at fault.