There 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.