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Jury gets case of Bunker Hill couple charged with abusing five children

February 12, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The jury seated for the trial of a Berkeley County couple accused of abusing five children in their custody is expected to continue deliberating the case today after hearing nearly three hours of closing arguments Tuesday from the attorneys and 45 pages of instructions from the judge.

Christina Ann Snyder, 44, and Nathan Allen Snyder, 29, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., who were indicted in 2010 on multiple counts of child abuse causing bodily injury, are accused of depriving the children of food, shooting them with BBs and bottle rockets, beating them with spoons and other mistreatment.

Christina Snyder was indicted on five felony counts, but attorneys said Tuesday that three had been dismissed in the course of the trial, which began Jan. 29.

One of 13 felony counts that were pending against Nathan Snyder also was dismissed. The alleged abuse occurred between September 2008 and April 2009, according to court documents. The victims told police they were burned with cigarettes, beaten with a spoon and punched, and one was made to run laps around a gravel road in his bare feet, according to court records.

In his powerpoint-aided closing argument, defense attorney Christopher Prezioso pointed to a transcript of 2012 pretrial testimony in which one of Christina Snyder’s sons upon direct examination indicated three times that his mother did not shoot him with a BB gun as is alleged in one count of her indictment.

Prezioso, who represents Christina Snyder, also dismissed the credibility of the remaining charge that the child’s mother punched the boy in the stomach and asserted the allegations were trumped up by the biological father of the children in his custody case to avoid paying more child support.

Prezioso described the investigation by the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office as “shoddy” and noted no photographs were taken by police to document the children’s injuries in two separate interviews with them on May 1 and May 8, 2009, after the abuse allegations surfaced.

“This is where (the sheriff’s office) investigation starts and ends,” Prezioso said of the interviews.
Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely in her rebuttal to arguments by Prezioso and defense attorney Thomas Stanley agreed that a better investigation could have been done and the deputy who interviewed the children should have taken photographs.

But Games-Neely dismissed the credibility of testimony given by a Child Protective Services worker, who said she saw a lack of evidence of abuse when she visited with the children. Games-Neely said the children didn’t trust the CPS worker enough to confide how they were being humiliated and abused in the time she was with them.

“The evidence in this case are these children,” Games-Neely said of their testimony on the witness stand.

While acknowledging instances where the children could not recall details of abusive incidents, Games-Neely said the mistreatment was not a memory that they wanted to keep. Two of the children were left “almost shell-shocked” and “numb” by the repeated abuse, Games-Neely said.

Stanley, who represents Nathan Snyder, told the jury that the children were coached to lie about the abuse. He also attacked the pending indictment against the Snyders as the work of a good prosecutor who can indict a ham sandwich.

“Folks, we’ve been dealing with a ham sandwich for two weeks,” Stanley told the jury.

Stanley also questioned why the Snyders had not been prosecuted in Hampshire County, where the children had testified that they also were abused before moving to Berkeley County.

Stanley, who apologized to the jury for the trial’s length, told the jury it could have been done in two days had allegations stemming from when the family resided in Hampshire County not been made part of the case by the prosecutor.

“The state has not proved anything happened in Berkeley County,” Stanley said.

Games-Neely said there was “systematic failure” in how the case was handled and told the jury the Snyders would have been stopped “long before this” had she been the prosecutor in Hampshire County.

The trial for the Snyders had been postponed multiple times after originally being scheduled for June 2010, and proceedings were delayed twice by inclement weather and once by illness, according to court officials. The jury began deliberating about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the 10th day of the trial. Twenty-third Judicial Circuit Judge John C. Yoder is presiding.

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