By andrei Blakely
ANNAPOLIS – After 14 years, two jury trials and three appeals, Maryland’s highest court Thursday granted a Baltimore County man another trial, ruling failure to participate in a murder investigation does not prove guilt.
On Valentine’s Day 1986, William L. Snyder found his wife Kay dead, her body severely beaten and dragged across the street from their home near Relay.
Seven years later, using in part circumstantial evidence of Snyder’s behavior after the slaying, the Baltimore County Police Department charged Snyder with murder. A jury convicted him in 1993.
In 1995, the Court of Special Appeals overturned the conviction, ruling speculation by the police was improper. Snyder was again found guilty in a 1997 jury trial. That conviction was affirmed by the Court of Special Appeals in 1999.
The Court of Appeals ruling prohibits the use of specific circumstantial evidence of Snyder not calling police during the investigation and failing to cry at the funeral.
“I am happy. I’ve always felt that it is wrong that the state relied on that evidence,” said Nancy Forster, Snyder’s public defender.
In making the appeal, Forster questioned two issues of evidence, his silence and a history of spousal abuse.
In Thursday’s opinion, written by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, the court agreed that silence during the investigation does not prove guilt because of its ambiguity.
“The jurors may have been inflamed by the evidence that the petitioner did not show an interest in the police investigation and, therefore, ignored the non-existing, or weak, link between the failure to inquire and consciousness of guilt,” Bell wrote.
The prosecution believes there is a link because Snyder reportedly lied to police and told one witness not to talk to police, said James Gentry, assistant states attorney.
“I think (the judgment) defies common sense. I think the jurors were using common sense,” he said.
The high court will allow evidence of the couple’s troubled history at trial.
Witnesses testified during the trials that Snyder and his wife, mother of five children, had an argument the night before the murder. Court records indicate the couple had a troubled relationship.
But Snyder testified that the relationship with his wife was good and getting better.
Disallowing evidence of Snyder’s behavior following the slaying will hurt the prosecution in another trial, said James Gentry, assistant state’s attorney.
“Anytime you take out one of the threads you weaken the cloth,” he said, because the case was decided over a mountain of circumstantial evidence that fits together.
Gentry, prosecutor of the case since 1993, said he was frustrated with the ruling because, “there was a lot that we introduced in (two trials) to convince 24 jurors.”