TORRINGTON — Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Patrick Korell has denied a motion from accused murderer Jamie Snyder's defense attorney to suppress Snyder's interview with Goshen County Sheriff's Office investigators just hours after he is alleged to have stabbed and killed Wade Erschabeck in May 2018.
Snyder will stand trial beginning at 9 a.m. on Feb. 10. He is charged with murder in the first degree, and if he is found guilty, he could face life in prison. The trial date was set following more than a year of mental evaluations that determined Snyder is fit to stand trial.
According to the Order Denying the Defendant's Motion to Suppress, penned by Korell, the Court considered all aspects of the interview and found it to non-coercive and legal.
"The Court has considered the totality of circumstances surrounding the interrogation in this case and finds the defendant's motion should be denied," the order read. "The state had demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant's statements to law enforcement on May 24, 2018 were voluntary."
Snyder's defense attorney, Jonathon Foreman, filed the motion to suppress the interview in late 2019. In the motion, Foreman wrote that investigators took advantage of his client's mental illness to get a confession.
According to court documents, Snyder admitted to stabbing the victim, but in self-defense.
"In the present case, Defendant, an individual that maintains that he was suffering from untreated paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested, taken into a room and interrogated," Foreman wrote. "Defendant gave multiple, contradicting statements to the deputies interrogating him, until he told them what they wanted to hear. Then, the interrogation ceased.
"Furthermore, the GCSO was aware that the defendant was mentally ill, having been tipped off by his mother that he was in a bad mental state only one or two days prior to the incident, as well as previous incidents in which the GCSO had been called out to deal with disturbances caused by the defendant."
Korell wrote that he relied on the testimony of Dr. Katherine Mahaffey, who said the defendant's mental conditions did not play a role in the interview.
"Defendant has been diagnosed by Dr. Mahaffey with borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder having narcissistic features," he wrote. "According to the opinion of Dr. Mahaffey, such a diagnosis would not make defendant more easily manipulated by law enforcement, however it could result in defendant being more manipulative of law enforcement.
"Dr. Mahaffey expressed her opinion that defendant's experience did not affect or permeate his interactions with law enforcement. Dr. Mahaffey reviewed the defendant's interrogation, concluding in her opinion that nothing in the interview suggested difficulties in defendant's mental state. Defendant could track info, knew he was in custody, and was aware he was in trouble and he was connected to reality."
The order also shed more light on the events of May 24, 2018, in the hours both before and after the altercation between Snyder and the victim.
On the day of the incident, GCSO investigator Kory Fleenor – who was elected sheriff in 2018 – had made contact with Snyder just hours before the attack. Fleenor did so at the request of Snyder's mother, Laura Knollman, who is set to testify that Snyder believed he had been the victim of a robbery and that Snyder had been "upset."
"On the morning of May 24, 2018, Fleenor went to defendant's home," the order said. "Fleenor found the defendant to be a little wound up about the alleged burglary and theft. Defendant stated he would not handle the burglary himself and had no thoughts of harming himself or others. Fleenor had no concerns about Defendant's mental health. As the day's events unfolded, defendant was involved in an unfortunate incident."
After the incident, Snyder was taken to the Goshen County Detention Center and questioned for over four hours. Korell wrote that the interview was "casual" and that investigators did everything by the book – and even complied with Snyder's request to change seats.
"The interview style was relaxed with a mixture of open-ended questions and directed questions. Even when the defendant and law enforcement disagreed about the evidence or the defendant's statement, the interrogation was respectful without shouting.
"At the beginning of the interview, the investigators advised defendant of Miranda warnings verbally and in writing. Defendant was offered the opportunity for counsel and told he could decline to answer questions at any time. Defendant agreed to talk to law enforcement without the presence of counsel. Defendant requested that the law enforcement officers change seats so he could look to his right when answering questions.
"Defendant opined that 'when you look right, right at somebody, then they're more apt to believe what you're saying than when you look left."
Snyder's story changed several times during the interview – once when investigators told him they had DNA and fingerprint evidence from the scene. Korell wrote that it was highly unlikely that law enforcement had that evidence.
"During the interview of the defendant, Sheriff Fleenor represented the state had DNA and fingerprint evidence," the order said. "This statement was likely false due to the immediate timing of the events. The sheriff also presented the substance of an eyewitness account, which contradicted defendant's statements. These may have contributed to the defendant changing his story."
Korell wrote in the order that the misrepresentation of the evidence did not coerce Snyder to confess.
"Law enforcement likely lied to defendant about fingerprint and DNA evidence when the defendant claimed he was home at the time of the alleged crime," he said. "However, the use of misstatements or tricks in and of themselves does not render a confession or admission involuntary.
"Fleenor used this misstatement, and an eyewitness account, to address defendant's suggestion of an alibi. While this technique had the effect of the defendant changing his story, such statements by law enforcement were not coercive. These statements were suggestive the state may have evidence contrary to defendant's story. Defendant then admitted he was at the scene but never wavered that he acted in self-defense."
At the beginning of the interview, Snyder told the investigators that he was home all day on May 24. As the interview went on, the story changed.
"Defendant first stated that he was home all day," the order said. "He next stated he drove around for a short while and then he returned home. He followed that by telling law enforcement that he drove around and tailed the victim to a residence in Fort Laramie, where the quarrel occurred. Defendant stated that he acted in self-defense when he admitted stabbing the victim when the victim lunged at him aggressively.
"Fleenor told defendant several times that his version of events did not make sense. But again, such disagreements did not result in coercive or extraordinary conduct by law enforcement. In fact, the defendant steadfastly maintained that he acted in self defense."
During the interview, Snyder also told the investigators where he had thrown out the clothes he had been wearing during the incident, and "assisted law enforcement in the recovery of those items, describing the area and location he left those items."