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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Dec 31, 2003 - Jan 6, 2004


Snyders admit guilt in child abduction case

Bizarre jungle rescue of child
culminates in court this week

Express Staff Writer

Just seven days before their scheduled trial, a father and son accused of taking a young girl away from her mother and fleeing to the jungles of Costa Rica entered guilty pleas in 5th District Court in Hailey.

Stephen T. Snyder, left, and Eli Snyder this week admitted their involvement in a bizarre child custody interference case that resulted when 5-year-old Lily June Snyder, formerly of Ketchum, was discovered with the pair in the jungles of Costa Rica last spring. Express photo by Willy Cook.

Stephen T. Snyder, the girl’s father, pled guilty to one count of aiding and abetting child custody interference, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Eli Snyder, the girl’s half-brother, pled guilty to one count of child custody interference, a felony also punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Snyders entered pleas on Tuesday, Dec. 30, said Jim Thomas, Blaine County prosecuting attorney. In exchange for their pleas, prosecutors dropped separate conspiracy to commit child custody interference charges for both men. The dismissed charges also carried five-year maximum sentences.

Sentencing for Stephen and Eli Snyder is scheduled for Feb. 17, Thomas said.

According to Thomas, prosecutors will seek to incarcerate Stephen Snyder for "up to five years, with a minimum of three years fixed." For Eli Snyder, prosecutors will seek two years of probation, with two years prison time withheld.

Thomas said the prosecution is seeking a stiffer sentence for Stephen Snyder because of his felony criminal record. Also, he said he believes Stephen Snyder orchestrated the crime.

"I know he was the driving force behind this thing, and that’s why we focused most on him," Thomas said.

In April 2003, 5-year-old Lily June Snyder, a former Ketchum resident, was rescued by an anonymous rogue recovery team in the jungles of Costa Rica where she’d been living with her father and half-brother. At the time the Synder men were suspected of kidnapping Lily from her mother’s care in June 2001.

The rescue was initiated after Lily’s mother, Margot Thornton, had identified a photo of Lily sent by the FBI to Ketchum Police Chief Cory Lyman in March.

However, it was the independent recovery team that went into the jungle and made the rescue, Lyman said. They allegedly tracked the trio for eight days, and had them under surveillance for 24 hours before attempting the rescue. According to a confidential report, "There were no weapons and they did not resist."

Lily was handed over to an escort team who took her to a safe house in San Jose, Costa Rica, to await the arrival of Thornton from Eugene, Ore., where the former Ketchum resident and her two other children now live.

Eli Snyder became a fugitive on Blaine County and FBI warrants after Lily disappeared while visiting with him in Eugene, Ore., in June 2001.

At the time of her disappearance, Lily was in the legal custody of her mother Margot Thornton, who was living in Ketchum at the time. Thornton had agreed to let Lily travel to Eugene in the care of Lily’s other half brother, Forrest Snyder.

Warrants for the two brothers were issued when Lily was not returned on the agreed-upon date.

Thomas said Blaine County paid the $2,500 bill for plane tickets from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Miami for the Snyders and the two Costa Rican police officers who accompanied them. He said FBI agents picked the Snyders up at the Miami airport April 16.

Thomas said Eli and Stephen Snyder waived opposition to extradition to Blaine County.

Forrest Snyder pled guilty in April 2002 to a felony charge of aiding and abetting child custody interference. He was placed on probation with the condition that he cooperates in the search for Lily.

At the time of Lily’s disappearance, Stephen Snyder was a fugitive from Orange County, Calif., after pleading guilty in April 2000 to corporal injury and false imprisonment of Thornton, both felonies, and to misdemeanor child abuse.

Thomas said he will still have to return to court for those crimes as well.

According to Stephen Snyder’s attorney, Public Defender Bob Pangburn, Snyder believed entering a guilty plea was the best means of achieving a beneficial outcome for his children. Lily Snyder will not have to testify, and Eli Snyder will not go to prison, Pangburn said.

"My client feels it’s the right thing to do. He’s not necessarily happy he’s done it, but he’s satisfied he’s done it," Pangburn said. "Personally, I have a hard time figuring out how they were going to prove this thing."

Of the escape to Costa Rica, Pangburn said Stephen Snyder believes he did the right thing.

"Stephen did what he did, because he thought it was necessary at the time to protect his child," Pangburn said.

Lily and her mother are expected to attend the sentencing in February. Thomas said Thorton is expected to testify.

(See related Year in Review story, page B7 of the printed edition of the December 31, 2003 Idaho Mountain Express.)



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