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 have had my run in with feckless and lazy “detectives” and a corrupt DA. I was accused of child molestation as a result of meddling in a relative’s drug use. What ensued has taught me that everyone can forget about justice and expect to be prosecuted without regard to the truth.

    My odyssey started shortly after I started trying to intervene in niece’s coke-snorting booze-swilling life. I was naturally worried that the children (one of them my 10-year old great nephew) were at risk of harm. My niece had married a baseball player and she went from broke white trash to rich white trash. In the ensuing years, her husband cheated on her and that led her in the direction of being more and more unstable over time.

    My meddling got me accused of molesting my then 10-year old nephew. I don’t know if he was put up to it or not but I suspect he was because the bizarre of the nature of the lurid accusations; they directly reflected the coke-and-booze induced convoluted thinking of a cocaine induced paranoia.

    Understand now, there is, in Georgia, a curious abuse of one’s rights in the interest of catching and jailing child molesters. It is called “the outcry” and it is the ONLY piece of evidence needed to get a conviction for child molestation in Georgia. There need be no physical evidence or eye witnesses because, as the theory goes, children don’t lie and certainly not about that. Of course, anyone with children knows that children lie all of the time.

    The law has been the bane of many fathers caught up in acrimonious divorce cases and there is no way to tell how many innocent men have ended up in prison unjustly. There is practically no way to defend against a single allegation of child molestation; good thing that there were many accusations made against me. I needed only to prove my nephew to be lying in a couple of case to call his claims into question. At least I thought so.

    That is the crux of my point here. In one instance, my nephew made a claim that I was able to refute because there was another child with us. My brilliant lawyer asked to get a deposition from the child that ultimately proved beyond any doubt that I was telling the truth, at least in that instance.

    Now, it isn’t really curious that the prosecutor raised strenuous objections to the deposition but luckily the judge thought it perfectly reasonable to allow it. The prosecutor was opposed for one reason, she had a weak case filled with such lurid allegations that I would need to be a green-eyed purple monster for anyone to believe them. Or, at least, completely insane with such uncontrollable sexual lust for a little boy that I’d do anything to get at his privates.

    That brings me to the real failure of justice. The police are supposed to be just as interested in proving a person innocent as guilty. Meaning, they should investigate to get at the truth and not just a sufficiency of evidence to convict. And, the prosecutor’s job is to get to the truth. Well, it should be but prosecutors could care less if they think they have a “good case” meaning a winnable case.

    However, you must remember the “outcry”. The simplicity of the legal requirement means that the cops are not tasked with doing anything extraordinary to do their “job” and nor are prosecutors. In my case, my nephew was “professionally” interviewed and those interviewers came to the conclusion that indeed he was telling the truth.

    Understand, he didn’t claim that I touched him inappropriately in the privacy of a place where we were secreted away. Allegedly, in one instance, I tried to get him into a strip club here in Atlanta at 10:30 am: Atlanta has an ordinance that requires bars to be closed by 3 am and doesn’t have 24 hour strip clubs. According to my nephew, I argued at length with the bouncer at the door and then, upon failing, I took him to the parking lot and molested him in my mid sized sedan in broad daylight.

    That, as it turns out, is a perfectly plausible story! Nevermind that molesters are more given to take their victims to places where they can have complete control over them with little chance of being found out – at least immediately anyway.

    The cops NEVER interviewed him about the allegations. Had this been any other kind of crime where the police need to gather and validate evidence to get a conviction, the cops would likely have questioned him at length all the while looking for inconsistencies. Better they are found and cleared up before a prosecutor gets her ass handed to her at trial.

    The prosecutor didn’t want to drop the case against me without getting something for the 8 months I was dragged through jail. At first, she wanted a confession to a reduced charge that still would have made me a sex offender and would have required me to go to “counselling” (don’t get me started on that phony crap). “Hell NO!”

    Then she wanted no expression of wrongdoing but still the offender counselling. “What!? . . . HELL NO!”

    Finally, I “confessed” to two counts of misdemeanor assault with time served. I grudgingly agreed. I needed to get out because my already poor health was really suffering and I needed to get back to my elderly mother who, as it turns out, needed bowel surgery almost immediately due to diverticular disease that almost killed her.

    The act of copping that plea made me sick to my stomach. A small bite of a shit sandwich is still a bite and it made me physically sick. I am still emotionally sick from the whole thing now more than 5 years later. I immediately forgave my little nephew. Hell, he was used and manipulated but, even if that weren’t the case, he was only 10.

    I have advice for anyone out there that reads this. If you are arrested, without regard to being innocent or guilty, DO NOT MAKE STATEMENTS TO THE POLICE WITHOUT A LAWYER! Further, don’t expect the prosecutor, police or even the judge to be interested in a fair trial based upon reasonable and believable allegations that are well supported by verifiable evidence.

  2. M. Price: First, keep in mind I agree with you that post-conviction DNA testing should be more available than it is, and that more prosecutors should be more willing to concede the exonerating effect of such tests in appropriate cases. However, your analysis of the resources involved fails to take into account many things. First, the evidence which may have DNA which can be tested must be identified and a determination must be made as to whether results favorable to the defendance would be likely to exonerate the convicted person. At this early stage, a review of the case by law enforcement and prosecuting attorney, as well as scientific consultation concerning potentially hundreds of items of evidence is likely to be required and then the preliminary issues briefed and hearings held. Then the testing. Then comes the litigation over the actual effect of the test results which is likely to consume substantial resources as you end up at what is essentially a trial balancing the new test results in with all the other evidence. Ultimately, there has to be a statutory scheme to determine how this should all be worked out, and judges are required to follow that scheme.
    Like anything else, the funds for these processes have to come from somewhere. Our system already has problems providing a complete defense to those initially charged due to a lack of resources. It is easy to say there’s enough money if we really want to do it, but every $230 to one place has to come from someone else. Many members of the public seem to be unwilling to to direct that resources should be appropriated for this particular purpose.

    1. “It is easy to say there’s enough money if we really want to do it, but every $230 to one place has to come from someone else. Many members of the public seem to be unwilling to to direct that resources should be appropriated for this particular purpose.”


      You raise a valid point that I think illustrates a major problem with the criminal justice system in the US. One would think that it would be a primary concern of any society that holds itself up as “just”, that the guilty are punished and the innocent go free. This is not the case in America and I presume in the rest of the world. There are inadequate resources allocated for all parts of our criminal justice system save for the funds allotted for police equipment subsidized by the Federal Government.

      Our trial system lacks enough Judges and ancillary personnel to ensure speedy and fair trials. Prosecutors and legal aid attorneys have large unwieldy caseloads. This lack of funding leads to shortcuts throughout the system and the odds of innocent people getting convicted, though probably low, are in fact unacceptably high if the rate were but 1%. This doesn’t even take into account the amount of people arrested and tried for victimless crimes and in the failed frenzy of the “War on Drugs.” To continue to underfund the system is a blanket admission that as a society we are less interested in justice than were are in expediency.

  3. @blhlls The cost of an admissable DNA test is $230, according to “DNA Testing Center of America”. Even assuming the tests need are 10x more expensive than that that’s less than 2 1/2 grand or less the cost of 8 weeks incarceration. To claim that limited resources is what’s stopping DNA testing is ludicrous. The reason it’s “Too expensive” is that anything is too expensive if you don’t want to do it.

  4. Michael B: “Every single step you mention is irrelevant to any notion of justice”
    On that we agree.

  5. Bron, that was why he was on the protective custody unit.
    We disagree on a number of things, but you get no disagreement from me on that.

  6. @lottakatz

    Prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves, cops that want a high clearance rate, Judges that don’t want to be perceived as soft on crime. Convictions benefit the players as much as the victims and society. LOL, you need another cup of coffee: you know that.

    Police departments around the country would do well to process the DNA samples they already have, most rape kits aren’t processed and years-long backlogs exist.

    Every single step you mention is irrelevant to any notion of justice.
    So my original question stands…
    a) Is our system of “justice” so perverted that it is a cynical joke to think that justice is its actual purpose?

    b) I wish JT or one of the lawyers on this blog would address this point in some depth.

    It seems insufficient to say “its too hard”. I agree w the post above that suggests that the state has a burden to prove innocence as much as guilt.

    I fear the justice system for these capricious reasons that it seems to function out of. What I want to know is this fear justified or is it paranoid?

  7. PSmith: Can you point me to the information showing the judge committed some kind of misconduct either in connection with the original trial or his determination on the original petitions for DNA testing? I haven’t seen any, and am curious as to what you are referring to.

  8. That judge is a Mizzoura judge, not a Kansas judge. Jackson County, Missouri.

  9. Bron – “Even if he is convicted and a test 20 years later could exonerate him, isnt it the duty of the state to do the test?”

    People seem to think it’s important to go back and retest 15 year old urine samples in pro sports for drugs or steroids, but nobody wants to retest old DNA samples to prove innocence or guilt for murder or rape. Priorities, people.

  10. randyjet – “There was a death penalty case in Montgomery County Texas where a school janitor was convicted of killing and raping a HS school girl.”

    I saw a documentary on that case once, but the firing of the clerk was not mentioned.

    Clarence Brandley, the man who was railroaded into the conviction, said that one of the “cops” said to him (and I quote verbatim), “You’re the n*****, you’re elected.” There wasn’t just laziness and corruption in the case, there was outright and naked bigotry.

  11. The judge should be the one fired (preferably, out of a cannon), and his personal wealth taken and given to Nelson in compensation.

    Bryn’s misconduct is worse than the rape of the original victim, both for the damage he caused to Nelson AND the failure to properly prosecute the real rapist.

    Those who abuse their positions (be they pi…I mean cops, mis-judges like Bryn, public persecutors or forsensic fictioners) should be deemed automatically guilty and imprisoned to save the public the cost of another trial.

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