Kansas Prisoner Released After DNA Evidence Clears Him Of Rape . . . Judge Then Fires Clerk Who Told Prisoner How To Seek Such Testing

div03There is an interesting case out of Kansas that first aired late July.  Kansas Judge David Byrn (left) was the presiding judge in the case of Robert Nelson, 49, who was sentenced to 70 years for a rape that he insisted that he did not commit. Byrn refused repeated requests from Nelson to prove his innocence through DNA testing.  Nelson would have stayed in jail for the 70 year sentence if it was not for the fact that Sharon Snyder, 70, directed a family member to an earlier motion where such testing was ordered.  Using that information, Nelson won the right to the testing and proved his innocence. When Bryn found out it was the clerk who informed him of the earlier successful motion in another case, he fired her just months before her retirement (though she later found that she could still receive her pension). She had been a clerk for 34 years.

Byrn turned down a motion in 2009 for DNA testing, which was not available 25 years earlier in 1983. By using the cited case, a third motion was successful and a lawyer from the Innocence Project was appointed to represent Nelson.

After Nelson was proven to be innocent all along, the judge went after the clerk. He wrote her that “The document you chose was, in effect, your recommendation for a Motion for DNA testing that would likely be successful in this Division . . . But it was clearly improper and a violation of Canon Seven … which warns against the risk of offering an opinion or suggested course of action.”

Notably, the earlier motion was public information. However Bryn said that the clerk was recorded in calls discussing non-public information with Nelson’s sister. Synder’s actions certainly could be viewed as suggesting a course of action and the discussion of any sealed information would be a serious breach. However, I am surprised with the level discipline against her. Notably, there has been no effort to review the actions of the police or prosecution in the wrongful conviction. There is no effort to review Bryn own repeated refusal to allow such simple testing of the evidence. It is the clerk who is fired.

I am also surprised that Judge Bryn would take this action himself since he was directly involved in the prior case and the testing has proven an embarrassment to him. I would have though that a recusal might have been ordered for another judge to look at the matter.

Bryn’s bio states:

David M. Byrn was appointed by Governor Matt Blunt in September 2008 as Judge of Division 3 of the Jackson County Circuit Court. Prior to his appointment to the bench, Judge Byrn practiced law for 27 years with the law firm of Jeter Rains & Byrn, LC. . .
Judge Byrn received his Juris Doctor Degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City in 1981. He received a Bachelor of Arts Degree, Summa Cum Laude, from Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa in 1978 . . .

Judge Byrn has long been an active member of his community, donating time to serve on multiple city boards and commissions. He has also served his local school district in many ways including serving on financial advisory committees, judging debate tournaments, and speaking at career days. Judge Byrn has been a long time supporter of many different charities including Habitat for Humanity, Truman Neurological Center, Optimist Club, and the Boy Scouts. Judge Byrn is an ordained minister in the Community of Christ and has served in multiple administrative positions and on many different boards and commissions of his church.

Snyder was fired just five days after Nelson was released.

66 thoughts on “Kansas Prisoner Released After DNA Evidence Clears Him Of Rape . . . Judge Then Fires Clerk Who Told Prisoner How To Seek Such Testing”

  1. I do not know whether it’s just me or if everyone else experiencing problems with your blog.

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  2. As I have been saying for a long time, scientific discoveries about the human genome (e.g. DNA) have brought DNA testing into focus in the sense of accuracy.

    Scientists have discovered that forensic and medical assumptions about DNA are now troubling:

    From biology class to “C.S.I.,” we are told again and again that our genome is at the heart of our identity. Read the sequences in the chromosomes of a single cell, and learn everything about a person’s genetic information — or, as 23andme, a prominent genetic testing company, says on its Web site, “The more you know about your DNA, the more you know about yourself.”

    But scientists are discovering that — to a surprising degree — we contain genetic multitudes. Not long ago, researchers had thought it was rare for the cells in a single healthy person to differ genetically in a significant way. But scientists are finding that it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes. Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body. Some have genomes that came from other people.

    Medical researchers aren’t the only scientists interested in our multitudes of personal genomes. So are forensic scientists. When they attempt to identify criminals or murder victims by matching DNA, they want to avoid being misled by the variety of genomes inside a single person.

    Last year, for example, forensic scientists at the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory Division described how a saliva sample and a sperm sample from the same suspect in a sexual assault case didn’t match.

    (The “It’s In Your Genes” Myth – 2). Criminal defense lawyers take note.

  3. $230 is a bargain. Depending on the state and the specific facility, it can cost from about $100 per day up to over $600 per day to keep an inmate incarcerated. An inmate serving a life sentence costs the state department of corrections about $1.5 million dollars, on average.

    If you go back and read the piece I wrote about the “greying” of our prison population, it is clear that aging prisoners have more heath problems than younger ones, including dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. The cost of keeping an inmate in the DoC’s skilled nursing facility skyrockets the price of incarceration.

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