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For the week of Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2003


Judge declines to throw out child custody case

Snyders await Jan. 5 trial

"He knew that as soon as he had contact with the authorities, that he was going to jail. That’s why he took that child to Costa Rica."

JUSTIN WHATCOTT, Blaine County deputy prosecuting attorney

Express Staff Writer

Pre-trial posturing is picking up in a strange international child abduction case being played out in 5th District Court in Hailey.

On Monday, Nov. 24, 5th District Judge James May considered six motions made by both prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 5. Notably, he declined to throw the case out at the requests of defense attorneys.

Stephen T. and Eli Snyder are on trial for allegedly kidnapping Lily Snyder, Stephen’s daughter and Eli’s half sister.

Eli Snyder is charged with conspiracy to commit child custody interference and child custody interference, both felonies. Stephen T. Snyder, formerly of California, is charged with conspiracy to commit child custody interference and aiding and abetting child custody interference, both felonies.

On Monday, May denied motions by defense attorneys to dismiss a grand jury indictment that established probable cause to arrest the Snyders because the grand jury was "improperly instructed on jurisdiction." The judge also denied a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

"The motions will, in all respects, be denied," he said.

The judge also denied a motion by Stephen T. Snyder’s attorney, Public Defender Bob Pangburn, to prevent Lily Snyder from testifying as a witness in the trial. Pangburn said the Snyders wished to protect Lily from possible psychological damages, "where she could feel responsible for putting her brother and her dad in jail."

May, however, said there are ways to ensure Lily Snyder’s protection during the trial.

"Off hand, it occurs to me that she is a competent witness," May said. "Clearly she can testify as to things that are material."

Finally, May said he would take under consideration a request by Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Justin Whatcott to allow the state to present evidence of Stephen T. Snyder’s criminal history.

Whatcott said that a warrant issued by California for Stephen T. Snyder prior to the alleged kidnapping could help to illustrate that he had a motive to contact his daughter and flee the country with her.

"He knew that as soon as he had contact with the authorities, that he was going to jail," Whatcott said. "That’s why he took that child to Costa Rica."

Lily, the daughter of Stephen Snyder and his estranged wife Margot Thornton, formerly of Ketchum, was rescued by an anonymous, independent recovery team from the rain forest of Costa Rica on April 11, where she’d been living with her half-brother and father for nearly two years.

Police say she had been abducted by Eli Snyder, a half-brother, in June 2001 following a planned visit from Ketchum to another half-brother, Forrest Snyder, who then lived in Eugene, Ore.

Thornton rushed to Costa Rica from her Eugene, Ore., home to regain custody of Lily, while the recovery team turned the Snyders over to Costa Rican police, who flew them to Miami and into the waiting arms of U.S. authorities.

They were returned to Blaine County in early May at Blaine County’s expense.

Lily has returned with her mother to Oregon, where she has two half-siblings, Isa, 12, and Lars, 8.

In a telephone interview from her home last spring, Thornton told the Mountain Express that Lily seemed unharmed and in fact had acquired proficiency in Spanish as well as a self-reliance in rugged jungle surroundings.



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