Penich murder featured on TV news show
SEOUL — A three-year-old murder case in which U.S. Army investigators played a major role was featured on “Primetime,” an ABC News program that aired Friday on the American Forces Network.
The 20-minute segment, hosted by reporter John Quinones, focused on the murder of Jamie Lynn Penich, a 21-year-old exchange student stomped to death in an Itaewon motel room in March 2001. Although U.S. soldiers were questioned, the case took a turn after fellow exchange student Kenzi Noris Elizabeth Snider confessed.
Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, agents played a large role in the case, investigating soldiers in South Korea. Eventually, Special Agent Mark Mansfield traveled to Huntington, W.Va., in February 2002 to question Snider after he noticed inconsistencies in the case.
Agents showed her photos and videos of the crime scene, Snider said, and that is when she realized she was being accused of the crime. One of the agents seemed intent on pushing the theory of a spurned lesbian advance prompting the killing.
“He asked me ‘Well, who kissed who first?’” said Snider, 22, in the ABC interview. “I was like, well, we didn’t kiss. But I’m thinking they said that they have evidence, there must be some reason he’s asking this.”
“Were you sexually attracted to Jamie at all?” Quinones asked.
“No, no,” Snider responded.
“Why were you agreeing to this if it didn’t happen?” Quinones asked.
“Because I was saying no, it didn’t happen, and then they are telling me I’m lying,” Snider said. “I have three people with badges telling me that something else happened that night and they know what happened they are just getting me to understand what happened. I’m believing them.”
Snider confessed to killing Penich, but she recanted that confession after she was extradited to South Korea in December 2002. In the program, Snider maintained her innocence, saying, “I know I didn’t kill her, and I see my signature on that confession.”
Snider said FBI and CID agents convinced her she killed Penich, planting images into her mind that she said became real. But after she returned to the crime scene with South Korean police, Snider said, she knew she didn’t kill Penich.
Snider is the first American to be extradited to South Korea for a crime.
No FBI or CID agents were interviewed in the program. But Hwang Woon-ha, former chief of detectives at Yongsan Police Station who worked with CID, said he believes Snider was the attacker based on her actions at the crime scene.
“She confessed to such a level that she would correct police on details of the crime,” Hwang said through a translator. “So no, I don’t think she confessed to a crime she didn’t commit.”
During the program, Snider went back to the crime scene, Room 103 of the Kum Sung Motel, a short distance from Burger King in Itaewon. In the motel’s small, dingy room, Quinones asked: “What is like being back here?”
“It’s hard to be in here and not picture her (Penich’s) body,” Snider said.
For Patty and Brian Penich, Jamie’s parents, the recanted confession is meaningless, and they remain convinced of Snider’s guilt. “You have to live the rest of your life with this burden,” said Brian Penich on the show.
His daughter would have had no way of defending herself against Kenzi, who was bigger, Brian Penich said.
South Korean prosecutors have tried Snider twice in court. But under South Korean law, a confession must be given by a suspect directly to a prosecutor, not only police. The belief is the measure protects a suspect from being forced to confess by police.
Snider’s case is scheduled for a hearing in the Supreme Court sometime this year. If acquitted a third time, she will be free to return to the United States.
Both times the case went to trial, judges dismissed it on the technicality that Snider confessed to police but not to the South Korean prosecutor. For the Penichs, it meant frustration: “They have idiots for judges,” Patty Penich said on the program.
“She knows that we know that she did it,” Patty Penich said.
Snider responded: “I’m sorry for the pain that any false hope could have caused them. I hope they find out who did it.”
“I did not kill their daughter,” she said.