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DNA Test Leads to Pardon of Man Convicted of Rape Seven Years Ago

April 24, 1993

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A man convicted of rape seven years ago went free Friday because the governor granted a pardon based on genetic tests that cast serious doubt on his guilt.

Outside prison, Walter T. Snyder Jr. hugged his mother and his girlfriend, a former prison guard who quit to help Snyder clear his name.

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said DNA tests done recently ″place a cloud upon the verdict.″

Snyder, 26, has been imprisoned since he was convicted of breaking into a woman’s apartment and raping her in her bedroom.

″I don’t know what I’m going to do now,″ he said. ″I think I’ll just enjoy my family.″

Snyder requested clemency in February, saying the test of DNA found at the crime scene virtually ruled him out as a suspect.

Commonwealth’s Attorney John E. Kloch endorsed the test’s findings, which included a new analysis of semen samples taken from the victim after the 1985 rape.

The test used a new method that allows analysis of extremely small and old samples, even on saliva.

″It is very possible that had DNA been perfected as a forensic tool in 1986 and the jury had the advantage of the DNA analysis that has recently been accomplished, it would have reached a different verdict,″ Wilder said.

Kloch said Snyder would have been acquitted if the DNA evidence was admitted at trial. Kloch’s office prosecuted the case.

″There’s only one person who knows whether he committed this crime and that’s Walter Snyder,″ Kloch said. ″But with this evidence there’s reasonable doubt in my mind.″

The victim remains convinced Snyder is the rapist, Kloch said.

Though still controversial, DNA testing - designed to identify a person’s unique genetic code through analysis of hair, blood, skin or semen samples - has won increased acceptance in courts nationwide.

The unconditional pardon means Snyder may file a petition with the state to formally expunge his record of the conviction, Kloch said.

Investigators will not reopen the case unless they get new leads, Kloch said.

Defense lawyer Peter J. Neufeld said legislation could be introduced to compensate Snyder, but added: ″You can’t give him back those seven years of his youth.″

Edith Snyder, the freed man’s mother, said waiting for the pardon was excruciating.

″There was a lot of bitterness at first, but that’s gone now,″ Mrs. Snyder said.

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