Snider details a confession she repudiates
SEOUL — A retracted confession, lack of physical evidence, jurisdictional problems and a stubborn South Korean criminal code are just four of myriad hurdles prosecutors must leap in their second attempt to convict Kenzi Noris Elizabeth Snider in the violent death of her friend.
Snider, 22, an exchange student, was acquitted June 19 of a charge she killed Jamie Lynn Penich, 20, another U.S. exchange student, after the two spent the evening of March 18, 2001, drinking in an Itaewon bar. Snider’s first attorney told judges his client felt she was pegged to protect U.S. servicemembers who many have committed the crime.
Unlike in America, South Korean prosecutors can appeal criminal case acquittals.
For the appeal, which began Thursday in Seoul High Court, Snider hired new attorneys, including Brendon Carr — a former U.S. sailor who works for Aurora Law Offices in Seoul. She’s banking on their ability to persuade judges her contested confession is inadmissible under South Korean law.
She said the confession was prompted by investigators.
“They convinced me I had killed Jamie,” Snider told Stars and Stripes in an interview at an Itaewon cafe Tuesday. Although she since has repudiated the document, “I signed my name to the confession. I wouldn’t have done that if hadn’t I believed it” at the time.
“I was no longer trusting my memory,” she said. “I had this black cloud for what the question they were asking was” but, under continued interrogation, “it was slowly getting gray until I had the picture they had shown me.”
Snider could face from three to seven years in prison. Although U.S. court documents termed the case a murder, South Korean prosecutors downgraded the charge to grievous bodily harm, similar to a manslaughter charge in the States.
Snider says her confession came at the prompting of her FBI questioner. She said two FBI agents and one Criminal Investigative Command agent — working from how they had theorized she killed Jamie — prompted her with answers, called her a liar and discouraged her from getting an attorney by telling her that would be viewed as uncooperative.
Further, Snider said, her knowledge of the crime scene and events — much of which she said police told her after the murder — tainted her original memory.
In a news release after Snider was arrested in February 2002, the FBI said Penich and Snider were in the bathroom of Room 103 in their motel. The two began to kiss and have sexual contact, and Penich attempted to take off Snider’s pants. Snider then became angry, the statement said.
Snider denied any sexual contact occurred, saying the suggestion came at the prompting of agents when Snider told them she recently had dreamed of a train. A train dream, one FBI agent told her, is a sign of sexual conflict for a woman.
“He created the whole scenario,” Snider said. Penich “never even undressed in my presence. There was no kissing or sexual contact of any kind.”
Snider describes the interrogation — which was neither videotaped nor recorded — as a series of multiple-choice questions. She would agree to one question, which then would be used as a fact, in turn generating other questions, eventually creating a supposed flow of events.
“It’s kind of hard to describe what was going on in my brain,” Snider said. “It was almost like a photo album or a series of postcards … and so every time he would ask a question I would have this black cloud in my brain, and then it would get grayer, less gray — it would become lighter until I had this little postcard that I added into the flip-book.”
When the questioning concluded, was Snider conscious she was confessing?
“At the end of the three days, I had believed I had killed Jamie,” Snider said. “And if I had believed I did it, I wasn’t going to hide from the fact.”
Snider’s mother, Heath Bozonie, who is staying in South Korea through the appeal, supported her daughter’s explanation.
“In another interview, Kenzi one time said if you drop a glass on the floor, you get the broom and you sweep it up,” Bozonie said.
“I had spilled my milk,” Snider said.
“She had spilled her milk; she was cleaning it up,” Bozonie said. “They had convinced her she had spilled the milk.”
Army Criminal Investigation Command agents and an FBI agent initially became involved at the request of South Korean police, who asked them to help after learning U.S. soldiers socialized with Penich the night she was killed. The soldiers initially were primary suspects but were cleared because of a lack of physical evidence, according to police officials.
Penich, like Snider an exchange student in Taegu, was stomped to death. Her teeth were found across the room, and her jaw was broken, according to autopsy results.
The South Korean prosecutor, Choe Kwang-tae, declined to comment about the case for this story.
Prosecutors said Snider reportedly confessed to killing Penich to FBI and Army agents in Huntington, W.Va., in February 2002, and was extradited to South Korea. Snider later retracted the confession and a three-judge panel at her first trial rejected it, saying it wasn’t rendered to a South Korean prosecutor.
Under South Korean law, confessions are admissible in court only if they have been said before a South Korean prosecutor, said Kim Hong-kyoung, who is representing Snider with Carr. That confession also must be backed by physical evidence, which this case lacks, Kim said.
Snider’s attorney in the first trial, Om Sang-ik, focused on the confession’s inadmissibility.
Even if the confession is admitted, Carr said, the defense team plans to question its reliability and to stress that no physical evidence links Snider to the crime.
Efforts to contact the FBI agent who questioned Snider were unsuccessful.
CID agent Mark Mansfield testified during Snider’s first trial that she confessed after being confronted with inconsistencies in what she originally told police and crime-scene evidence. Although agents seized clothing from her home in St. Cloud, Minn., no blood traces were found.
FBI agent Lee Sung-kyu, formerly stationed in Seoul, testified Snider did not “really request” an attorney during the questioning.
Snider said South Korean police and agent Lee took her back to the motel room when she came to South Korea, where a defendant must re-enact a confession.
Snider said she re-enacted what she remembered from the confession but props used by police — including a dummy in the bathroom — showed her it was physically impossible for her to have done what agents said she did because she and the dummy didn’t fit in the bathroom.
“There were slight differences that spatially made it impossible,” she said.
Also, Snider said she was shown a photo that showed a bloody footprint in the bathtub. However, her confession doesn’t account for that, she said: The confession says she dragged Penich out of the bathroom, stomped her and then left the room.
But “walking through that hotel room cleared up any hesitations I might have had” about whether she killed Penich, Snider said: She does not believe she killed her friend.
Other inconsistencies remain, such as the size 10 or 11 Skechers-brand shoe South Korean police said the killer wore. Snider said she no longer has what she describes as the brown, casual shoes she wore that night, but said that’s not her shoe size.
The loose ends, contested confession, lack of physical evidence: They suggest, said attorney Carr, that “unless the real killer comes forward, there is no solving this.”
— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.