Suspect in hatchet slaying wants trial moved

A man accused of killing his father with a hatchet in Rangely wants his trial moved to Garfield County, arguing that pretrial publicity would prevent a fair trial in Rio Blanco County.

Attorneys for Jerry Snider Jr. filed the motion for a change of venue for his first-degree murder trial, which is expected to last three weeks.

Snider is accused of attacking his father, Jerry Snider Sr., at his father’s Rangely home over the Fourth of July weekend last year. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

In their motion, Snider’s public defenders mostly cited articles in the Rio Blanco Herald Times. They said one article was all about Snider Sr. being “a great guy,” and that the paper also reported on things such as his son’s criminal history that might be “arguably irrelevant” and inadmissible at trial.

The attorneys said an article included court-sealed information, apparently leaked by a source, that a state mental hospital evaluation had found the defendant “sane and competent to stand trial.”

“Unfortunately, that person did not also reveal to the reporter that Mr. Snider has been found to be Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity by at least one forensic psychiatrist,” his attorneys wrote.

They also cited an “extremely angry and prejudicial” posting on the Daily Sentinel website by a family member and witness in the case who was responding to a Sentinel story. The writer said Snider Sr. constantly helped his son, who repaid him “by brutally murdering him.”

Snider’s attorneys say the trial could be moved simply because it would be more expeditious. It would save the state at least $9,810 in hotel and other costs because four of the five lawyers involved live in Garfield County, they said.

In a court filing answering Snider’s motion, the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office opposed the venue change, which prosecutors called “an attempt to transfer the cost and inconvenience of the trial” to Rio Blanco County witnesses who would have to travel to Garfield County.

Prosecutors said the substance and quantity of articles on Snider’s case “are not massive, pervasive, or inherently prejudicial,” and so they don’t create a presumption of prejudice among potential jurors. Rather, it can be presumed that a careful questioning of jury candidates can result in a fair and impartial Rio Blanco County jury, they said.

They said media coverage of the Snider case stands in contrast to that of Kenneth Botham, whose first conviction for four 1975 murders in Mesa County was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court in part because it found that pretrial publicity prevented the seating of an impartial local jury. Botham is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole after being tried and convicted a second time.

Following a preliminary hearing in March, Judge Gail Nichols ruled Snider should be bound over for trial for first-degree murder. The defense argued that the time that prosecutors alleged Snider had spent going upstairs for a hatchet and returning downstairs to kill his father wasn’t sufficient to help show the kind of deliberation necessary to warrant a first-degree murder charge. But Nichols found it possible to reasonably infer he planned to kill his father in that span of time.


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