SEOUL — The Yongdungpo Detention Center in southeast Seoul is Spartan, with thick metal bars on the windows, uneven courtyard bricks and worn floors and walls. Relatives visit their loved ones for an allotted seven minutes a day. A tiny speaker announces the prisoner’s arrival to the visitor’s booth.

Among these inmates is the only American ever brought to South Korea for trial under an extradition treaty between the two nations.

Kenzi Noris Elizabeth Snider, 21, of St. Cloud, Minn., has been detained here since December, accused of killing a fellow exchange student during a trip to Seoul on March 18, 2001. Korean prosecutors said they decided to extradite and try Snider in Seoul because the crime occurred in this country. They said they believe this is the first time South Korea has ever sought to extradite an American.

“Even if the crime happened between foreigners, it was a felony and we should do something,” said prosecutor Nam Myong-hyun, who originally handled the case. “We had Kenzi’s confession, so it was enough evidence to extradite her.”

Snider confessed to killing Jamie Lynn Penich, 20, of Derry Township, Pa., in the Itaewon entertainment district outside Yongsan Garrison, according to the FBI. Penich was stomped to death in the Kum Sung Motel, a dingy $30-a-night inn off the main drag.

Snider — who’s being tried on charges of unintentionally injuring a person resulting in death — asserts that her confession was coerced and that she’s a “scapegoat” pegged as a murderer to protect the real killer: a U.S. servicemember.

Snider’s mother, Heath Bozonie, who teaches English in Thailand, is in South Korea for her daughter’s trial. The two see each other almost daily through the thick, perforated plastic that divides them in the visitor’s booth.

Bozonie said she went to South Korea in March 2001 after the murder to support her daughter. Her daughter and her daughter’s friends wanted to see the case solved two years ago, the mother said, but she doesn’t remember many specific details from the stressful period.

“I really wasn’t listening to the story very much because I was more watching how Kenzi was reacting,” she said.

In a brief interview with Stars and Stripes late last month, Snider declined to discuss details of her pending case. South Korean guards monitored the interview and Snider said her conversations could be used in court.

“Obviously, I want to go home and have this resolved in my favor,” she said, trying to stifle tears. “It still doesn’t solve the problem of who killed Jamie.”

The case doesn’t fall under the status of forces agreement, said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, 8th Army public affairs officer. Snider has no connection to the U.S. military and it would be inappropriate to comment on this case, Boylan said, declining to elaborate.

South Korean police and Army Criminal Investigation Command investigators initially focused on U.S. servicemembers who socialized with Penich and Snider the night of the murder. Investigators found no physical evidence linking a U.S. servicemember to a crime, said Marc A. Raimondi, CIC spokesman, when contacted at Fort Belvoir, Va., on April 2.

Shortly after Penich’s death, Stripes spoke with two U.S. servicemembers interviewed about the crime. Both were cleared and since have left South Korea on normal rotation. Military officials said one servicemember is at Fort Eustis, Va., but they were unable to determine the location of the second.

The two servicemembers said they socialized with Snider’s and Penich’s group but left the bar separately. At least three other U.S. servicemembers were questioned by South Korean police and Army agents but were cleared after no physical evidence linked them to the crime scene, South Korean police told Stripes during the investigation in 2001. Later, a CIC agent noticed inconsistencies in Snider’s statements, Raimondi told Stripes. A unnamed CIC agent — referred to as “Mansfield” in court — along with Lee Sung-kyu, an FBI agent stationed in Seoul — questioned Snider in the United States and obtained the confession in February 2002.

She was extradited under an unconventional combination of South Korean and American law enforcement work. The contested confession could be the only link between Snider and a South Korean prison term.

Her trial — which started March 6 — has been postponed until May 1 while the South Korean court subpoenas the agents who took her confession. It was obtained during three days of questioning in a Ramada Inn motel room in Huntington, W.Va., according to an FBI news release. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Maureen Cormack said the FBI agent involved will comply with any court order; Raimondi said CIC agents also would cooperate.

Snider, dressed in a green jail jumpsuit, said she’s being treated well. Jail officials make her a special egg sandwich for lunch and she usually gets carrots and cabbage soup for dinner.

“There are cultural differences, but that’s not the jail’s fault,” Snider said. “I’ve been treated very well by the guards and the inmates.”

Bozonie stressed that investigators found no physical evidence linking her daughter to the murder.

South Korean police originally said the killer wore men’s size 9 or 10 Skechers-brand shoes, based on evidence collected at the crime scene.

Bozonie said Snider buys men’s shoes for the arch support because she has flat feet but wears a women’s size 9, or men’s size 7. She said her daughter’s shoes were analyzed by CIC and South Korean police to no conclusion.

Hwang Woon-ha, chief of detectives at Yongsan Police Station, talked to Stripes on Tuesday. He said evidence points toward Snider as the killer but he’s unsure how conclusive it is. He said he couldn’t provide details because the trial is under way.

He said investigators looked at the shape and size of footprints found in the room and on Penich’s body; they also looked at Snider’s shoes when she was being questioned before leaving South Korea within a few days after the death. But he provided no further details.

Her daughter’s confession, Bozonie said, was derived from interviews that made Snider feel like a witness rather than a suspect. The interviews were not tape-recorded, Bozonie said, and the confession was generated by an agent and then signed by her daughter.

“They convinced her she really had done it,” Bozonie said. “Kenzi really wants to know the truth.”

Bozonie described her daughter as a kind, bright woman who attended international schools while her father was an Air Force technical sergeant who worked in intelligence and the State Department’s Foreign Service in computer security. They spent time in Kuwait, Bangladesh, Thailand, Italy, England, Belgium, Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Japan.

Snider, who was studying elementary education at Marshall University in Huntington, had a 3.98 grade-point average, her mother said. She worked at a now-defunct home for troubled youth in West Virginia. Bozonie said her daughter had no reason not to cooperate with agents. But, the mother contends, they used manipulation to reach the outcome they wanted.

According to extradition papers filed by the FBI, Penich and Snider went to a bar the evening of St. Patrick’s Day. They returned to their motel early the next morning. Snider was helping Penich into the shower when Penich attempted to take off Snider’s pants, an FBI statement said. Snider became “enraged,” then “hit Penich’s head, causing her to fall into the bathtub.” Snider then violently trampled Penich’s face, neck and head area with her shoes, the FBI alleges in the extradition papers.

If the South Korean court throws out the confession, it could mean freedom for Snider, said her defense attorney, Om Sang-ik. Bozonie said they hired a South Korean lawyer because the case is being tried in Seoul and she believes there no point to having a U.S. attorney in South Korea.

— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now