By all accounts, Jeffrey Snyder has had a screwed-up life.
His parents divorced because of his father’s alcoholism. Around age 10, he was introduced to drugs and alcohol and homosexual sex by older boys in his Fresno neighborhood.
When he tried to talk to his parents about it, they didn’t know how to deal with it.
In 1974, he joined the Army, but was honorably discharged six months later because he could not adjust to military life.
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Unable to cope, he began molesting boys, nearly 10 of them, starting in 1979, causing him to live most of his life behind bars, his lawyer said.
Snyder, 61, now is confined at Coalinga State Hospital, one of 480 sexually violent predators in California who have finished their prison sentences but are deemed so dangerous that they must remain locked up.
He has paid his debt to society.
Fresno defense attorney Curtis Sok
The law allows judges to confine sexually violent predators in state hospitals if they have a mental disorder that makes them likely to reoffend. But Snyder, who has been in the hospital for 10 years, finally has received the go-ahead from a Fresno County judge that will allow him to re-enter society. But finding a home could prove difficult.
Authorities thought last month they found the ideal place – a two-story, five-bedroom, three-bath home in northwest Fresno. But once the address was publicized, neighbors protested and the owner of the La Paz Avenue home decided against it, the District Attorney’s Office reported.
On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Gary Hoff will hold a hearing to determine the best place to house Snyder.
“He has paid his debt to society,” said Fresno attorney Curtis Sok, who represents Snyder.
Sok said Snyder has earned the right to be free again because he has successfully completed all the hospital’s treatment programs with high marks. “The hospital has helped him to become a better person,” Sok said.
But Fresno prosecutor Richard Thomas, who sought to keep Snyder confined at Coalinga State Hospital, doubts Snyder has been rehabilitated.
“When the judge ruled, he put on the record that Snyder remains at high risk to reoffend,” Thomas said.
Ready for release
Sexually violent predators are housed at Coalinga State Hospital, which has 1,260 beds and an annual budget of $247.6 million, said Ralph Montaño, spokesman for the Department of State Hospitals. (All of the predators are men in the Coalinga hospital; a female predator is locked up in another hospital.)
There are 480 patients in the Coalinga hospital who have that designation and another 460 patients who are awaiting court hearings to determine if they meet the qualifications to be designated a sexually violent predator, Montaño said. The other patients include mentally disordered offenders and mentally ill prisoners from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, he said.
Currently, 13 sexually violent predators statewide are living in homes on conditional release, but none are in Fresno County or in the Valley, Montaño said.
That could soon change.
In March, Hoff ruled that Snyder, who has been diagnosed with paraphilia, a condition characterized by abnormal sexual desires, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities, is still a sexually violent predator but could be released to a home in Fresno County under strict conditions, such as 24-hour monitoring and drug testing.
The state has a contract with Liberty Healthcare to find homes for sexually violent predators. Alan Stillman, executive director of the company’s conditional release program, said he is prohibited from talking about Snyder or any other sexually violent predators.
But in a letter to Hoff, he said it is difficult to find housing. “Sometimes it takes nine months to two years,” the letter says, while noting that residents become outspoken and sometimes threatening once they learn a child molester has moved into their neighborhood.
Thomas said residents on La Paz Avenue had a right to be upset; if the home had been accepted, Snyder would have lived alone near a park and school, the prosecutor said. If the owner had been willing to rent to Liberty, Thomas said he would have objected at Tuesday’s hearing.
Thomas said Stillman does a good job finding housing, but the residents’ outrage illustrates the difficulty in finding a suitable home. The five-bedroom home that was initially identified was likely the only one in Fresno whose owner was willing to rent to Liberty, Thomas said. And if the home had been approved, he said, the owner likely would have charged over-market prices for rent.
When the judge ruled, he put on the record that Snyder remains at high risk to reoffend.
Fresno prosecutor Richard Thomas
Background of a predator
Court records spell out the issues with Snyder:
In September 1979, he drove a 10-year-old boy to a remote location and ejaculated on the boy’s leg. Snyder was committed to Atascadero State Hospital for nearly four years.
Then in January 1985, Snyder allowed a 14-year-old runaway to sleep over at his home. While the boy slept, Snyder molested him. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Once released from prison, he violated parole by annoying children in a sexual way and received a six-year prison term. Then in 1995, he received a 10-year prison term for molesting another boy.
In 2006, he was committed to Coalinga State Hospital as a sexually violent predator.
Sok said Snyder is eligible to be released because he has repeatedly acknowledged that what he did to his victims was wrong and has shown remorse. He also said Snyder has never had a violation inside the state hospital, while other inmates have been cited for having illegal contraband, such as alcohol and pornography.
“Mr. Snyder has learned and understood the serious damages he had caused to the children he sexually abused,” Sok said.
To understand why Snyder did it, Sok said, the court record clearly shows that Snyder was a victim of sexual abuse as a child by a family friend and by older boys in his neighborhood. “He had to deal with that emotional pain and damage for decades without knowing how to cope and deal with it,” Sok said.
The record also shows that Snyder “never used physical violence or force on the victims,” the lawyer said.
The frequent use of LSD in all likelihood had a deleterious effect on his emotional capacity, the ability to realize he was hurting another human being and stopping himself from doing so.
Superior Court document
Sok said Snyder has a diagnosed disorder of dyslexia, which has made it difficult for him to read and write and interpret words and social cues. The disorder caused him to skip school frequently and finally drop out around the 11th grade. It also prevented him from having friends. His only recourse was to have sex with the older boys so they would like him, Sok said.
Court records say Snyder abused alcohol and marijuana, starting at age 11. He also experimented with LSD fairly regularly as a teen.
“He associates his substance abuse with some of his sexual activities with children,” the records say. “The frequent use of LSD in all likelihood had a deleterious effect on his emotional capacity, the ability to realize he was hurting another human being and stopping himself from doing so.”
As a child, Snyder needed help, but schools at the time weren’t helping special-needs children like they do today, Sok said. Snyder’s parents also didn’t know how to aid him.
“He had no one to tell, so he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with his life,” Sok said. “That led him to molest children.”
Being confined for 10 years in Coalinga State Hospital has helped Snyder come to grips with his life, Sok said. Through state-mandated treatment programs, “Mr. Snyder has demonstrated to hospital staff, psychologists and psychiatrists who have worked with him on a daily basis, that he has completely changed and been reformed. This led to an affirmative recommendation by the state hospital director for his release,” Sok said.
Snyder’s 10-year-old victim, who is now 47 and living in the Bay Area, said he has no doubt that Snyder will reoffend: “He’s a creep of the worst kind. He shouldn’t have gotten out of prison in the first place.”
The man, who The Fresno Bee is not naming because he is a victim of sexual abuse, said what Snyder did to him “still affects me today and will affect me the rest of my life.”
He recalled he was playing with other kids in a neighborhood near Shields and Cedar avenues when Snyder drove up in a pickup and asked him to come with him to check out a rope swing. “Back in the ’70s, parents didn’t watch their kids like they do now,” he said.
He said Snyder drove him to a field, then masturbated in front of him and wouldn’t let him out of the truck: “I was just a little kid. He was an adult. I was scared he was going to hurt me and leave me in that field. If that’s not violence, what is?”
He said Snyder then drove him home. That was the last time he had seen or heard of Snyder until last month, when a prosecutor called him and said a judge was going to let Snyder out of Coalinga State Hospital.
He’s a creep of the worst kind. He shouldn’t have gotten out of prison in the first place.
A former Fresno resident who was one of Snyder’s victims
“Snyder is not a victim. He knew what he was doing,” he said. “I feel sorry for the next child who comes in contact with him.”
Safeguards in place
Snyder’s childhood and criminal past were made public when he and Coalinga hospital officials testified at a court hearing in March.
Thomas could have asked a jury to determine Snyder’s fate but chose to let Hoff make the decision. Thomas said he chose Hoff because the former homicide prosecutor has a reputation of being tough, but fair. Thomas said he also opted for Hoff because judges are elected officials who are held accountable by the public. Jurors don’t have the same accountability, he said.
Once Snyder finds a home, “he won’t be able to go wherever he wants,” Thomas said. He will wear an ankle monitor and will have “very intense supervision,” the prosecutor said.
Snyder will be living under a set of conditions that are specifically outlined in a 10- to 12-page report, Thomas said. Hoff will keep tabs on Snyder’s progress through quarterly reports.
If Snyder violates any condition of his release, he will be arrested and jailed until he has a hearing, Thomas said. If it’s determined that he has reoffended or is a threat to public safety, he would return to the hospital, the prosecutor said.
“There’s a lot of safeguards in place,” Thomas said.
Because Hoff has made his ruling, Sok and Thomas agreed that keeping Snyder locked up in Coalinga State Hospital would be unconstitutional.
Sok gets angry when he hears about residents protesting about Snyder living near them without getting the full story about him. He also said it is hypocritical to protest against child molesters when far worse criminals, such as rapists and killers, are being released from prison. “Where’s the outrage?” Sok said, saying protesters of Snyder have “selective morality and prejudices.”
Snyder is unlikely to reoffend, Sok said, because hospital officials told the judge he no longer has active thoughts or fantasies about children, a claim supported by a recent polygraph test and assessments of him.
More importantly, Sok said, hospital staff have taught him how to stay out of trouble. For example, if Snyder sees a teen on the street who needs help, Snyder will find a police officer or another adult to assist the teen, Sok said. If a child asks him for help in a store, Snyder will find the child’s parent or a store employee.
Once released, Snyder also will have a support group helping him, Sok said.
“He told the court that he did not want to reoffend and hurt any child again,” Sok said. “He said he did not want to see any child go through what he had gone through as a child.”
Where they live now
Sexually violent predators live in conditional release programs in 10 California counties:
Contra Costa, Placer, Sacramento (2), San Bernardino, San Diego (3), San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Solano and Tehama.
Source: Department of State Hospitals