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Death penalty case called off

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This photo of 10-year-old Zachary Snider was shown to jurors at the trial of Christopher Stevens, the man convicted of murdering him in July 1993.
LAFAYETTE - A former Cloverdale resident who molested and murdered a 10-year-old boy in 1993 and initially received the death penalty for the crime will not be executed.

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, Tippecanoe County Superior Court 2 Judge Thomas Bush ruled that Christopher Stevens, 37, would be sentenced instead to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The new sentence was the result of a recommendation by the Putnam County Prosecutor's Office.

Stevens was sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of Zachary Snider. The death penalty in the case was set-aside in 2007 by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, while the conviction for felony murder stood.

A retrial on the penalty phase of Stevens' trial was set to begin in February.

The decision to not put Stevens on trial again was based largely on the wishes of Zachary's parents, Todd and Sandy Snider.

"I, Todd Snider, as well as my wife Sandy Snider, would like to drop the death penalty in favor of life without the possibility of parole," Todd Snider said in a written statement to the court. "Our family has suffered enough and would like for this to be resolved once and for all. This will give our family finality. Chris Stevens will die in prison and will never have the opportunity to destroy peoples' lives again."

Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said he felt compelled to abide by the Sniders' wishes.

"My office had prepared for the upcoming trial over the past 12 months," he said. "Todd and Sandy Snider asked me to consider life without parole to prevent them from having to go through another jury trial 15 years later. Mr. Stevens more than deserved the death penalty, but I will honor Todd and Sandy's request."

Putnam County Assistant Prosecutor Justin Long has also put numerous hours into the case.

Bookwalter believes the outcome of a second death penalty trial for Stevens would have been the same as the first.

"I believe it was probable that another jury would have given Mr. Stevens the death penalty, but it would have caused the Sniders to go through a lengthy jury trial, and then if convicted, a new set of appeals could have gone on another 10 years," he said. "With the plea, this case is over. There are no more appeals and the Sniders should never have to deal with Stevens again."

Retired Indiana State Police Detective Dick Rice, now 68, who was the lead investigator on the Stevens case in 1993, came out of retirement to assist Bookwalter when it appeared the case would go to another trial.

It was Rice to whom Stevens gave his confession.

"When the verdict came down, I felt like (Stevens) should have been put to death," Rice said. "But with appeals, this thing could have gone on forever. Now it's over."

Rice said in his estimation, Stevens has never shown any remorse for murdering Zachary.

"He has never said he was sorry," he said.

In addition to reopening old wounds for the victim's parents, another trial in Stevens' case would have been costly.

"The trial, in all likelihood, would have cost the county $300,000 to $500,000," Bookwalter said. "But the cost was not a factor in my decision. The County Council has been very supportive and told me to do my job and not worry about the cost."

Bookwalter said the reality is that Stevens will likely have a harder time with the general prison population than he did on death row.

"Mr. Stevens will now be moved off death row and be without the privileges death row inmates get," he said.

Stevens molested and strangled to death Zachary Snider on July 15, 1993. Because of the media attention the case received, a change of venue motion was granted and the original trial was held in Tippecanoe County.

Stevens had a prior Marion County conviction for Class C felony child molesting when he murdered Zachary. Stevens was convicted in that case in February 1993 and received a four-year sentence with three years suspended and probated. His probation was transferred to Cloverdale, where he returned to live with his father.

Zachary and Stevens were often seen together prior to the murder, and at one point Todd Snider had warned Stevens to stay away from his son.

When Zachary went missing, a search was launched. Court records said Stevens confessed to his brother that he had murdered Zachary, and on July 21, 1993 Stevens led authorities to a bridge in Warren Township just north of Cloverdale where Zachary's body and his bicycle were found.

Rice said Stevens dumped Zachary's body about three miles from where the murder was committed.

"This changed the whole community," Rice said.

Zachary Snider's murder was the impetus for Zachary's Law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2003 and requires Indiana sheriff's departments to establish and maintain the Indiana Sheriffs' Sex Offender Registry to provide detailed information about individuals who register as sex or violent offenders at Indiana sheriff's departments.

For Bookwalter, one of the saddest aspects of the case is thinking about all the things Zachary Snider never got to do.

"We talk about Stevens ad nauseum," he said. "What we should be thinking about is this 10-year-old kid who never got to get a driver's license, go to a prom, meet a girl and get married. His life was just snuffed out."

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Let me see. Destroy the Public Defender system saving innocent people (even if just one)to save an estimated $120,000.00 but wiling to spend $500,000.00 to kill one person.

-- Posted by reckman on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 12:50 PM

This is the best story I have read on the current happenings involving my family. Thank you Banner Graphic.

Nicole Snider-Speer

-- Posted by nicolesniderspeer on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 1:00 PM

reckman you are a very shallow person to even mention politics in this article! this is about a young boy who lost his life to a scumbag!!

-- Posted by indianaresident on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 1:14 PM

This was a long while ago I realize, but it makes me so sick to read that this man had a prior conviction and was granted a suspended sentence and took this child from his family less than 6 months later. Very sad! I feel for the family to finally have peace. Above the aspect that their dealings with this man are over, he has taken something they will never get back and that is infuriating!

God Bless You all-

-- Posted by roachdalekid on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 1:48 PM

Dear "indianaresident":

If it has Bookwalter in the article, it is political.

-- Posted by reckman on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 2:02 PM

Reckman--just because it mentions the prosecutor, doesn't mean it's political. That's just a ridiculous statement. I am aware that he is an elected official, but this story was about justice being served and the wishes of a grieving family.

As someone who was a friend and classmate of Zachary, I will be honest and admit that I was happy when Stevens got the death penalty. While I still think he deserves to die for what he did, if the family wishes for this to be over, and there is no chance for him to ever be out, I am not only okay with that, we all should be.

Kudos to the prosecutor for taking the family's wishes into account. They have suffered enough, and if more than a decade of trials would follow, then we can all certainly understand their wishes and should all support it.

-- Posted by cloverfan on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 2:30 PM

Well said Cloverfan.

-- Posted by Scripted Spontaneity on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 4:00 PM

Put a bullet in Mr. Stevens head and charge his family for the bullet!

-- Posted by 1stamendrights on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 4:53 PM

Very well stated cloverfan and so very true.

♥'s hugs and prayers go out to the family .....

-- Posted by dorindaJ on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 6:35 PM

I do not know the Snider's, I had met Sandy once, but I have a lot of friends that know them well, and I know that to say that this has devastated their family would be the understatement of the century. If this move will allow them to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and go on, thank God! For those of you that have to politicize everything, find somewhere else to rant. God bless you Sandy and Todd, may you find peace!

-- Posted by uncommonsence on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 8:48 PM

I have to say that I too am very glad this over for good. Zach was my brothers friend and we lived near Chris Stevens. We are all forever changed because of what happened. Everytime this gets brought up it opens all those wounds again.I still fight tears every time I talk about it. Detective Rice was amazing during the original investigation, the county is lucky he was willing to go through this again. I will never forget Zach and how funny and lively he was, and give anything to forget the horrible way his life was taken. We should all be thankful for Zachery's Law and use it to protect our children!!

-- Posted by CP46135 on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 9:27 PM

I went to school with Zachary and as a child remember him at school and playing at recess.

I'm sorry for being forward, but I would have liked to have seen this man put to death a long time ago for his actions.

It makes me sad when I think of what this has done to the Snider family.

But I support the decision made by the family.

-- Posted by cloveralum on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 10:25 PM

I feel for the Snider's family.I can't blame you for letting Stevens sit in prison for the rest of his life,cause I wouldn't want to go through all the trials for Stevens to get the death penalty that's got to be so hard to do.But Stevens is in prison for the rest of his life and can't ever hurt a child again.And Stevens can live the rest of his life thinking how a sick person he was for doing what he did.I LOVE THE ZACHERY'S LAW IT'S GREAT THAT WE HAVE THIS LAW SO WE CAN KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON ALL OUR CHILDERN...AND KNOW WHERE THESE PEOPLE LIVE SO WE CAN KEEP OUR EYE ON OUR CHILDERN...MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS GO TO THE SINDER'S FAMILY...

-- Posted by sassyas27 on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 10:48 PM

This tragedy is still fresh in so many people's hearts in this community. I can't imagine the pain felt by the Snyder family, but I am glad the prosecution followed the wishes of Todd and Sandy. Another trial would be so painful.

Todd, Sandy, Nichole, I pray that from this day forth you can focus on the gift of 10 years with Zachary God has blessed you with. May the joys of those memories overshadow the pain you have endured. What we don't understand now will be a joyous discovery when we rejoin him. God bless.

-- Posted by Xgamer on Thu, Sep 24, 2009, at 6:55 AM


you are not confused at all

yes - the guilty verdict stands

yes - death or life in prison was the only question

yes - Mr. Bookwalter did the right thing

and almost certianly that Mr.Stevens will find his existance on the inside very difficult and then the meeting with God after his sentence is served, will be even worse!

-- Posted by uncommonsence on Fri, Sep 25, 2009, at 9:28 AM

Why does it cost so much money to kill a person. If a man can commit such a horrible crime and be found guilty by a jury, why can't we just do a public hanging like the old days and I will even pay for the rope! Now 500,000 dollars is cut down to 10 dollars. All this money is used for is to sugar coat the pockets of the courts and lawyers.

-- Posted by 1stamendrights on Tue, Sep 29, 2009, at 5:27 PM

His father is living back in cloverdale

-- Posted by SMH yea right on Sun, Dec 22, 2013, at 6:53 PM

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