Julian acquitted of manslaughter in Cape Girardeau shooting death

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ aeisenhauer@semissourian.com Department of Corrections Officer Steven Julian was charged with involuntary manslaughter after a coroner's inquest in the death of Zachary Snyder on Tuesday, February 26, 2008.

FULTON, Mo. -- When a Callaway County jury issued a not-guilty verdict Tuesday on whether Steven R. Julian committed involuntary manslaughter in shooting and killing a parole jumper while trying to cuff him, Julian's family members and co-workers breathed a single, audible gasp.

Across the aisle of the cavernous courtroom, Edith Snyder, mother of 23-year-old victim Zachary Snyder, sat in silence, a hand clasped to her mouth, eyes lowered, before hurrying out of the courtroom.

Throughout the trial, Edith Snyder clutched a blue binder filled with memories or her son, compiled in February by his classmates.

While Julian, a fugitive recovery agent, declined to comment on the verdict following the two-day trial, his attorney, Steven Wilson, said his client wanted Snyder's family to know he is sorry for their loss.

After hearing testimony from 13 witnesses, including Julian, who took the stand for just over an hour, it took the jury 44 minutes to reach a decision.

"I felt if it was a short deliberation it would be an acquittal," said Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle.

Swingle said he knew it would be a tough job deciding whether Julian acted in self-defense when he shot Snyder in the back after the other man made a sudden jerking motion.

"That's why we have juries to make those hard decisions," he said.

Julian testified earlier Tuesday that when he pulled his dark green Alero into the parking lot of a Cape Girardeau apartment complex Feb. 14, two dull porchlights at 2857 Themis St. illuminated Snyder's 5'5" frame, shrouded in a long red and white striped shirt and baggy khakis. He seemed to be jabbing his index finger angrily at two people on the front steps of the apartment building, and his jaw moved as if he were yelling, Julian testified.

When he parked his car, he stepped out with his gun drawn and raised because he was there to arrest Snyder on a parole warrant related to a past conviction for "drug dealing," he was without backup, Snyder was already in an agitated state, and darkness had fallen over what he thought to be a high-crime area, he testified.

"There were a lot of shadows," he said.

Julian, who had worked within the Missouri Department of Corrections as a prison investigator for several years before joining the fugitive apprehension team in 2006, testified he'd made arrests without back up before but that he'd also had to draw his gun on a number of occasions.

Julian instructed Snyder to place his hands on the car but couldn't get a look at his left hand to see whether he had a weapon.

Then, using the back of the car as a springboard, Snyder spun to the right, and Julian reacted, sliding his finger from the trigger guard where it had gone when he'd prepared to holster his weapon and firing, striking Julian in the back just under the shoulder blade.

"This all happened that quick," Julian said, snapping his fingers.

"I never saw his left hand, not once," he testified.

Scott County deputy Tom Beardslee testified that as an assistant coordinator at the Southeast Missouri State University Law Enforcement Academy, he taught students to always make sure both of the subject's hands were visible and under control when making an arrest.

Beardslee also testified that it's the subject being arrested whose actions determine the level of force being used.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Cape Girardeau detective Tracy Lemonds testified that three calls were made to dispatch alerting them that Snyder was in the area and that an officer requested backup.

Leslie Tyler, a friend and occasional roommate of Snyder, testified Monday that he and Snyder had not been arguing when Julian arrived but that he'd called 911 because he didn't want to get in trouble for harboring a fugitive.

At a coroner's inquest in February, Julian's testimony didn't mention that he'd begun to holster his gun when Snyder jumped, an inconsistency Swingle highlighted in his closing argument.

What the jury didn't know, Wilson said, was that Snyder had four assaults on his record in addition to the conviction for possession of a controlled substance related to methamphetamine and stealing a car. The information was not admitted because Julian hadn't known about the assaults at the time, Wilson said.

Since the shooting, custody of Julian's former fugitive apprehension unit has been transferred to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, but Wilson said his understanding is that Julian may be given another job in the Department of Corrections.

"He's anxious to get back to work," Wilson said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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