There is a man in Kansas City who was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He has been exonerated based on DNA evidence, and the woman who helped him get his freedom got fired for doing so.
Robert Nelson was awaiting trial on unrelated robbery charges almost 30 years ago when an anonymous tip came in saying that two brothers in jail at the time for robbery—two brothers with a different last name than Nelson—had committed a string of rapes nearby.
While police could not find those brothers, they did find Robert Nelson, who just happened to be awaiting trial on robbery charges with his own brother. That single anonymous tip received by police, plus a single problematic witness ID, led to Nelson being convicted for rape and sentenced to 70 years in prison for a crime he maintained he did not commit.
In 2009, Nelson filed a motion seeking DNA testing that had not been available at the time of his trial. That motion was denied on a technicality.
In 2011, he filed again and once again was denied by the same judge on a technicality.
After two failed motions, Nelson’s sister, distraught and wondering why the motions were being denied, called up the court clerk—Sharon Snyder, a 70-year-old great- grandmother and 34-year court employee—looking for answers.
Snyder responded by going way above and beyond her duty. She went and found a successfully-filed motion seeking DNA testing from a different case and she blacked out the names and gave it to Nelson’s sister as a model.
Nelson and his sister submitted a third motion based off that document. And finally, that motion was granted.
And, lo-and-behold, the DNA evidence revealed that Nelson is innocent of the brutal rape he was serving time for, he was released from prison this past June. And not only that, the DNA testing and the folks from the Innocence Project who worked on behalf of Nelson, and in cooperation with prosecutors, found the two men who actually committed the rape.
But, for her efforts in helping to free an innocent man from prison and find the real perpetrators of the crime, Sharon Snyder was fired by Judge David Byrn, the Judge who denied the original two motions and granted the third for, in his words: “A violation of Canon Seven…the court rules…which warns against the risk of offering an opinion of suggested course of action.”