An appeal for Jamie Snow was heard on Tuesday May 12, by the Fourth District Appellate Court, in Springfield, IL. Snow was convicted in 2001 for the 1991 murder of William Little. Little was the victim of an apparent robbery while working as a gas station attendant in Bloomington, IL. Snow has always maintained his innocence and says he was at home eating dinner with his family at the time of the murder. Snow is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
There is no physical evidence of any kind that incriminates Snow. His conviction was secured solely on witness testimony. No one saw the crime take place. The prosecution presented eye witnesses who claimed to see Snow leaving the scene and also a series of jailhouse snitches who claimed that Snow confessed to them that he had committed the crime. New evidence is now available that highlights many inconsistencies in the eye witness statements, and numerous jailhouse snitches have now recanted. There are also documented allegations of deals given to snitches by the State in return for testimony.
The court heard arguments to decide whether Snow’s 2013 successive post conviction petition was unfairly denied without a hearing by the lower court. Snow’s appeal simply seeks the permission to file the petition. Tara Thompson, with The University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project, represents Jamie Snow. Thompson explained the current status well when she told the court that this is not a situation where a court has reviewed new evidence and denied its reliability. This is a case where new evidence was presented and the court said don’t even bother bringing it in the door.
Oral arguments were heard by a three-judge panel: Judge Lisa Holder White, Judge James A. Knecht and Judge Robert J. Steigmann. Thompson presented a strong case, but there were no defining moments to identify whether the judges were receptive to Thompson’s points. Judge Knecht and Judge Steigmann asked questions throughout the hearing, while Judge Holder remained silent.
Thompson was given twenty minutes to present her arguments for the defense, followed by the same allotted time for the State. Thompson then had five minutes to provide a rebuttal. I did not time the intervals but it did appear that extra time was allowed to accommodate questions from the judges. With that said, the time given to make a proper argument was minimal.
Thompson’s statements to the court clearly show that there is important new evidence that was not available at Snow’s trial. Thompson fully discredited the State’s star witness Danny Martinez, and she raised serious questions about a jailhouse snitch based on statements made by the snitch’s ex-wife.
Much is already known about Martinez that has been highlighted in previous appeals that already effectively challenges his credibility. Now new evidence leaves no doubt that he is unreliable. Martinez was in the service station parking lot putting air in his tires around the time of the murder. Martinez testified that he saw someone exiting the building. At that moment he thought his car was backfiring so he turned back toward his car to check on it. When he realized his car was okay, he claimed that he then turned around quickly and almost ran into a man, startling them both. Martinez testified the man he saw was Jamie Snow.
The problem is that Martinez’s testimony, heard eight years after the crime, completely contradicts previous statements that he has made. Martinez was given multiple opportunities to identify Snow early on, but he never did. On the night of the murder, Martinez viewed mug shots and suspect books and could not identify Snow. He narrowed it down to two men that were not Snow and stated “it’s between these two.” No information has ever been released that clears the two men that Martinez identified. Martinez later viewed a physical lineup that included Snow and could not make a positive identification.
Thompson’s statements to the court focus on new evidence that has now become available through a FOIA request. This new evidence unequivocally obliterates Martinez’s testimony and also exposes a Brady violation. A polygraph test, which was never given to Snow’s defense team, has notes showing that Martinez specifically stated that Snow was not the person he saw at the service station. According to The Committee to Free Jamie Snow, in the polygraph worksheet notes it describes the witness airing up his tires, then specifically says: “w says this is not the person he saw.”
The State suggested that Martinez was referring to his failure to identify Martinez in the 1991 line up. This argument is extremely weak and should be dismissed by the court. Judge Steigmann questioned the State’s shaky position, stating: “So, the witness failed to identify petitioner in the lineup within a few weeks of the crime, and then three years later when this polygraph exam is taken, the note in the margin says that Martinez says petitioner is not the person he saw, and your description of that is that refers to the lineup?”
This new evidence not only discredits Martinez, it also highlights misconduct. Polygraph tests are not usually admissible in court, but Thompson explained to the court that Brady law clearly states that information can be exculpatory if it leads to other exculpatory evidence. The polygraph notes clearly fit that definition. The defense was never made aware of this exculpatory evidence so it does constitute a Brady violation.
The State has now attempted to change the narrative by claiming that Martinez was never an important witness and that his testimony did not change the outcome of the trial. The State’s response is that this has never been a witness identification case. They now want the focus to be on jailhouse snitches that claimed that Snow confessed to them that he committed the crime.
So, according to the State, Brady violations should be ignored and discredited eye witnesses should be forgotten. The State appears to suggest that there is no reason to grant any review at all because they still have jailhouse snitches to fall back on.
Just like Martinez, much is already known about the jailhouse snitches. Jailhouse snitch Kevin Schaal denied that he received a deal, but records indicate he received an early departure from prison for providing information “valuable to a murder trial.” Another jailhouse snitch, Ronnie Wright, admitted in a sworn affidavit that he and Snow got into an argument over a card game when they were in county jail together. He got mad and sent a letter to the State. He stated in his affidavit: “All of the testimony implicating Jamie Snow that I gave at the trial was a lie. I was mad at Jamie and wanted to get even for what had previously happened in county jail. I was able to answer all of the prosecutor’s questions with detail because I had read all of the discovery materials.”
There were also allegations that prison inmates were pressured to give testimony. Prosecution witness Ed Palumbo admitted on the stand that he was trying to get a deal for himself. Palumbo later stated in a sworn affidavit that he was threatened by the state’s attorney, stating: “if I didn’t testify I would be put in segregation in prison, be charged with perjury, or get five years in prison for not cooperating.” Palumbo also stated that Prosecutor Charles Reynard told him that Snow did not commit the crime, someone else had, but “since they couldn’t get that other person Jamie would have to do.”
Thompson’s statements to the court focused on a snitch named Bruce Roland. Roland told the authorities in 1999 that Snow confessed to him. Roland’s ex-wife, Danielle Prosperini, provided a detailed affidavit to the defense explaining how Roland admitted to her that he lied on the stand about Snow. She also observed Roland attempting to obtain leniency on a DUI charge. Roland had multiple DUI’s and was facing serious consequences. Roland denied on the stand that he received a deal for his snitch testimony, but records indicate his cooperation was “taken into consideration” for sentencing in an unrelated crime. Roland also failed a polygraph when questioned about his claims. Prosperini’s testimony impeaches Roland. Since this information was acquired after Snow’s trial, it is considered new evidence that should warrant review.
There is also new evidence on jailhouse snitch Steve Scheel. In a previous petition filed by Snow, Scheel stated that he agreed to testify after being put in segregation while incarcerated as a means to get him to cooperate in the Snow investigation. Scheel claims that he agreed to testify to stop the harassment. Scheel also failed a polygraph in relation to this crime. Newly discovered evidence has now been presented in Snow’s latest petition. Scheel told a polygraph examiner in 1993 that Snow did not confess to him. This information was suppressed by the prosecution. This is another Brady violation.
I was surprised to hear the State’s response to the allegation that snitches received deals. In what I can only describe as an odd event, the State read off a list of jailhouse informants that received leniency (deals) after they testified against Snow. It appears the goal was to show that the deals came after testimony so the witnesses had no idea that they would be receiving anything in advance. This is a ridiculous argument. It is obvious that it is well known in the prison system that you will be rewarded if you help the State. States actively seek out inmates to provide statements. Jailhouse snitches are often solicited. Those who know that deals are available will come forward to try and help themselves. And as we have seen in this case, some are pressured to cooperate.
As many as fifteen witnesses have now recanted their testimony in this case. The truth is snitch testimony is rarely reliable and is often given far too much weight at trial. The Innocence Project states that over 15% of wrongful convictions are influenced by snitch testimony. The book “Actual Innocence” estimates the number to be as high as 21%.
How many witnesses have to be proven unreliable and how many Brady violations need to be discovered before a court decides that Jamie Snow’s case deserves a review? How can a judge look at the case as it stands today and conclude that the outcome of the trial would not have been affected by all of this new evidence? Jamie Snow and his supporters continue to seek answers to these questions and are hopeful in light of the new evidence that the Fourth District Appellate Court will rightfully rule in favor of the defense.
You can listen to the Oral Arguments from Tuesday’s hearing here.
Please visit FreeJamieSnow.com to learn more about this case.
This is an Injustice Anywhere featured case.