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. Proves the old point that any thing looks good on a resume but the truth is in ones actions. An ordianed minister to boot. What a joke. Too much power in this country without any checks and balances.

  2. He has a code. He’ll check the DNA surreptitiously, and if they match, he will dispatch.

  3. Bron,
    That guy had left a trail of “samples” at a number crime scenes. Crimes he had not ever been connected to.

  4. rafflaw, as an isolated question I agree with you. However, it takes resources both to do the testing and have a system for determining the value of the results. I also believe that current defendants in such cases should have demonstrably competent and talented legal representation and the funds for whatever experts, investigation, or testing the attorney believes might be useful and that the threshhold for establishing reversible error should be much lower. However, the system has a limited pool of funds available so how those should best be divided up will always be a matter for dispute. In connection with most post-conviction DNA testing statutes there is a preliminary analysis as to whether the requested testing, assuming results favorable to the petitioner, would be sufficient to cause the conviction to be set aside. In many cases DNA results might be useful in helping establish guilt, but of little value in establishing innocence. It will always be a judgment call as to whether testing of a particular item is warranted under the applicable law and circumstances of the case.

  5. OS:

    I would refuse too. Fuk that. Maybe he had an iheritable disease and didnt want his children punished by not being able to get insurance.

  6. You guys want to hear another side of this multifaceted issue?

    I was at the regional state prison, doing some work on the protective custody unit. One of the staff nurses came in, wanting to talk to the inmate I was interviewing. She had a swab sample kit and asked the inmate if she could take a swab from inside his cheek for a DNA sample. She told him it was voluntary, and the testing was free.

    He refused. She explained that under the rules, he could not get credit for any good days off until there was a DNA sample on file. He still refused. He did not want his DNA on file. The nurse and I both tried to explain to him that he was adding at least a year or two onto his sentence by refusing. He still refused to provide a sample. He said he would just flat time his sentence rather than give a DNA sample.

    I think his reason is obvious.

  7. What Mike S. said. DNA testing should be a right, not a procedure that you have to ask for. Especially in capital cases. I thought the goal was the truth, not get a conviction.

  8. Another amoral human and proof that all humans are criminals/”criminals”.

  9. This man has truly lost the forest for the trees. Or…he’s just another arrogant p*ick with a black robe.

  10. jmquinnn, some prisoners will try anything to try to shorten their time behind bars, including asking for DNA tests. As it also costs the govt money and time, it penalizes the system, which could give a prisoner a warm feeling of revenge. Quite rare I’m sure, but Barry Scheck has worked wonders with DNA and contaminated samples of it.

  11. It looks like the clerk also did the state a favor. What does it cost the state to keep someone locked up per year, $25,000-$40,000??? While, as a general rule, clerks shouldn’t be dispensing legal advice, the judge should have used some discretion here.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  12. To correct my earlier reference to a study. The material I saw concerned an estimate by Barry Scheck that 50 to 60 percent of the results of post-conviction DNA testing incriminated the petitioner who sought the testing. Given his knowledge and experience, I would expect that estimate to be in the ballpark, but it would not represent a conclusion based on a systematic review.

  13. This igPay Judge is in Jackson County, Missouri, which is Kansas City, but not the State of Kansas. Get the facts straight Toto. Dorothy is in Kansas.

  14. The clerk was exercising her right to petition her government for redress of grievances which is protected under the First Amendment. The judge is a state actor and can be sued for violation of the fired employees rights because the judge has no immunity for this non judicial function and state acts in violation of the civil rights of the employee. 42 U.S,C, Section 1983. Be there are be square lawyers.

  15. blhlls: “One study estimates that the testing results provide further support for the conviction in 50-60 percent of cases where post-conviction testing has been done

    How many of those tests were requested by the convicted person? This is not clear from your comment.

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