By Bruce Fischer
Jamie Snow was convicted in 2001 for the 1991 murder of William Little. Little was the victim of an apparent robbery while working as a gas station attendant in Bloomington, Illinois. This was a senseless crime that left an 18-year-old man dead, all for the reported theft of approximately sixty dollars. Snow is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in Stateville prison in Joliet, Illinois.
Jamie Snow has proclaimed his innocence from day one. He told police he was nowhere near the scene of the crime at the time of Little’s murder. According to Snow, he was across town having dinner with his children. In the years following Snow’s conviction, new information has come to light that strongly suggests the wrong man was sent to prison for Little’s murder, as a result of police misconduct and bad lawyering.
Detective Charles Crowe was the lead detective assigned to the case in 1991. With little to work with and pressure mounting to catch the killer, it appears Crowe went on a fishing expedition in search of a suspect. Crowe’s search led him to take a closer look at Bloomington resident Jamie Snow, apparently based on his prior brushes with the law.
Snow’s prior offenses did not involve violence of any kind. Snow’s record consisted of a petty theft charge in 1985 and an obstruction of justice charge in 1994. Snow was not a saint but nothing in his past suggested he was the type of person willing to commit murder in order to steal sixty dollars.
As the investigation moved forward, Crowe would come to realize that Snow did not fit the profile of a murderer. Snow was given a lie detector test (administered by Crowe) that he passed. Crowe would later say that he felt Snow was innocent of the crime. Crowe was unable to solve the Little case before retiring in June 1997. Over eight years would go by before any arrests were made for Little’s Murder.
In the years that followed, Snow moved to Florida to begin a new life. He obtained a job trimming trees and eventually saved enough money to start his own tree trimming business. Snow paid the price for his past mistakes and was determined to keep moving forward as a productive member of society. Snow rented a house and worked hard to provide for his children. The future was finally looking bright for Jamie Snow and his family.
Snow’s new life was turned upside down in September 1999, when he found himself arrested for Little’s murder. Shocked and blindsided, Snow called a defense attorney in Illinois to see what was going on, and was told: “They can indict a ham sandwich so you better get ready.”
Crowe’s retirement left the door open for two ambitious rookie detectives, Dan Katz and Rick Barkes, to take over the Little case. Solving an eight-year-old murder would be a career builder for sure. Katz and Barkes did not have to look far for their suspect. They simply opened the file left by Crowe and began building a case against Snow. Having no evidence against Snow was not an issue for Katz and Barkes. They had no qualms about building a case using unreliable jailhouse informants and faulty eyewitness identification. For reasons that are still unexplained, Katz and Barkes also focused on Snow’s sister-in-law Susan Claycomb, claiming that she drove the getaway car. There was absolutely nothing to back up the claim that Snow and Claycomb committed a crime together. The theory was absurd.
Claycomb was arrested at the same time as Snow. Both faced the same charges but were tried separately. Claycomb was offered probation by the prosecution in exchange for testifying against Snow but she refused. She lost everything in the process and was even forced to give birth while in prison awaiting trial.
Offering probation to Claycomb for a murder charge clearly showed that Snow was the desired target. If Katz and Barkes initially included Claycomb for the sole purpose of trying to influence her to fabricate testimony against her brother-in-law, they failed to do so, and significantly damaged an innocent woman’s life in the process. Sadly we may never know what motivated their decisions.
A competent attorney would easily shred the case built by Kats and Barkes, and this is exactly what happened at Claycomb’s trial. Claycomb’s defense dismantled the case against their client resulting in an acquittal. Claycomb would later testify for the defense at Snow’s trial.
Unfortunately Snow did not have the same defense team that went to bat for Claycomb. Snow’s public defender, Frank Picl, displayed egregious incompetence during Snow’s trial leading to his wrongful conviction. Picl was later disbarred and sent to prison in 2006 for bilking an elderly woman of her life savings while serving as her power of attorney. During his own sentencing hearing, he admitted that he suffered from mental illness, as well as being an alcoholic with a severe gambling problem. The beginning of Picl’s mental illness was traced back to stress related to a case Picl was working on before he was assigned to Snow’s case. Unfortunately the discovery that Picl was an incompetent attorney came too late to correct the damage done. In order to better understand Picl’s negligence, we first need to review at the prosecution’s case against Snow.
The case against Snow, if uncontested, would certainly look strong to a jury. The prosecution presented a stack of witnesses all claiming that Snow told them he committed the murder. The prosecution also had a star witness placing Snow at the scene of the crime. The case may have appeared to be a slam dunk on the surface, but a closer look, as proven in the Claycomb trial, would show that the prosecution’s case was deeply flawed.
The jury was led to believe that witnesses willingly marched into court to testify against Snow. Snow’s attorney failed to expose the truth about the prosecution’s witness list. New information not made available at trial destroys the credibility of these witnesses. The truth is the prosecution and police were handing out deals in exchange for testimony, and pressuring others with negative consequences if they failed to cooperate. This misconduct led to a laundry list of unreliable witnesses.
Jailhouse snitches seeking personal gain padded the prosecution’s witness list. Prosecution witness Bruce Roland denied on the stand that he received a deal for his snitch testimony, but records indicate his cooperation was “taken into consideration” for sentencing in an unrelated crime. Roland also failed a polygraph when questioned about his claims. Jailhouse snitch Kevin Schaal also denied that he received a deal, but records indicate he received an early departure from prison for providing information “valuable to a murder trial.”
Another jailhouse snitch, Ronnie Wright, admitted in a sworn affidavit that he and Snow got into an argument over a card game when they were in county jail together. He got mad and sent a flyer to the state. He stated in his affidavit: “All of the testimony implicating Jamie Snow that I gave at the trial was a lie. I was mad at Jamie and wanted to get even for what had previously happened in county jail. I was able to answer all of the prosecutor’s questions with detail because I had read all of the discovery materials.”
There were also allegations that prison inmates were pressured to give testimony. Prosecution witness Ed Palumbo admitted on the stand that he was trying to get a deal for himself. Palumbo later stated in a sworn affidavit that he was threatened by the state’s attorney, stating: “if I didn’t testify I would be put in segregation in prison, be charged with perjury, or get five years in prison for not cooperating.” Palumbo also stated that Prosecutor Charles Reynard told him that Snow did not commit the crime, someone else had, but “since they couldn’t get that other person Jamie would have to do.”
Prosecution witness Steve Scheel stated that he agreed to testify after being put in segregation while incarcerated as a means to get him to cooperate in the Snow investigation. Scheel now claims that he finally agreed to testify to stop the harassment. Scheel also failed a polygraph in relation to this crime.
These examples only begin to highlight the unreliability of the prosecution’s witness list. As many as fifteen witnesses have now recanted their testimony. The truth is snitch testimony is rarely reliable and is often given far too much weight at trial. The Innocence Project states that over 15% of wrongful convictions are influenced by snitch testimony. The book “Actual Innocence” estimates the number to be as high as 21%.
Along with snitch testimony, the prosecution also presented eyewitness testimony from three individuals present at or near the scene of the crime. The first of these witnesses was Gerardo Gutierrez. Gutierrez testified that he pulled into the service station for gas (shortly before the time of the murder) and he witnessed a man inside the station that appeared to be arguing with the attendant (Little). Gutierrez stated that he entered the station to pay for his gas and noticed the attendant’s hands were shaking so badly that he dropped the money Gutierrez handed him. After returning home, Gutierrez heard about the shooting and returned to the scene to discuss what he had witnessed with police. Using the information provided by Gutierrez, the police released a composite drawing of the suspect the next day. The composite featured a man with an earring and a fresh injury to his chin. Gutierrez stated the chin wound was recent because he could still see holes in the skin from the stitches. Gutierrez’s description was not a match for Snow. Snow did not wear an earring had no facial injuries of any kind at the time of the murder.
Gutierrez was given multiple opportunities to identity Snow in lineups and photo books during the investigation and never picked Snow out at any time. The fact that Gutierrez was able to give a detailed description of the suspect’s facial wound proved that he was able to get a good look at the suspect. It is clear that the man Gutierrez saw at the service station was not Jamie Snow.
The second eyewitness to testify was Carlos Luna, who was 14 years old at the time of the crime. Carlos and Juan Luna were both teenagers who lived across the street from the service station. Their home was a few houses down from the station and it was determined the distance of view was approximately 220 feet. The two boys claimed to be looking out the window to see if a family member was working at the station at the time because they wanted to go over and get some candy. Both claimed to see a man leave the station but were unsure if they could identify him. Both were unable to provide enough information to a sketch artist to complete a composite. Despite both boys’ lack of confidence the police brought the two in to view a lineup. Carlos took a wild guess, picking Snow out of the lineup, stating: “I imagined every one of them doing it and he came to mind and fit the picture.” His identification was far from convincing.
Carlos has now recanted his ID saying he is not sure if Jamie Snow was the person he saw from over 200 feet away, and that he only identified Snow because “as a 14-year-old, he believed that the police had caught the right person.” Why did he believe he was the “right” person? There were six people in the lineup.
Gerardo Gutierrez and Carlos Luna were unable to convincingly identify a suspect, but that was okay for the prosecution because they had Danny Martinez. Martinez would turn out to be the prosecution’s star witness, placing Snow at the scene of the crime. Martinez’s testimony appeared to be rock solid at trial. Martinez testified that he saw Snow leaving the service station at the time of the murder, telling jurors that Snow’s eyes were unforgettable. Martinez testified that he was putting air in his tires in the service station parking lot. When he finished he walked towards the service station and saw someone exiting the building. At that moment he thought his car was backfiring so he turned back toward his car to check on it. When he realized his car was okay, he claimed that he then turned around quickly and almost ran into the suspect, startling them both.
This testimony, heard over eight years after the crime, was incredible coming from a man that could not identify Snow shortly after the murder, despite multiple opportunities to do so. Martinez viewed mug shots and suspect books early on and could not identify Snow. He eventually narrowed it down to two men (neither were Snow) and stated “it’s between these two.” Martinez also viewed a physical lineup that included Snow and could not make a positive identification.
If Martinez really saw Snow at the service station that fateful night, he should have had no trouble identifying him. Snow and Martinez were not strangers. Both were childhood acquaintances that played sports together. In fact two childhood friends of Snow and Martinez gave statements to police that Martinez told them he did not see Snow at the service station that night and that he thought Snow was innocent.
New evidence is now available that further discredits Martinez’s testimony. Statements from Mark Foster, an investigator on the Susan Claycomb case, and Jeffery Pelo, the first police officer on the scene, positively confirm that Martinez’s testimony was false.
While investigating the case prior to the Claycomb trial, Mark Foster interviewed everyone involved in the case. Martinez stated to Foster that he saw the pictures in the paper, and Jamie Snow was not the person he saw. Subsequently, Martinez was put on the defense witness list.
Within weeks, the prosecution called Martinez into a private meeting at the state’s attorney’s office. During that meeting Martinez changed course and was now able to identify Snow in a picture of the lineup he had attended 8 years prior, at which time he was unable to make a positive identification. Just like that, Martinez was removed from the defense witness list and successfully recruited by the prosecution.
After Martinez became a prosecution witness, Foster returned to speak with Martinez and asked him why he identified Snow, to which Martinez responded: “It’s my understanding they have a lot of evidence against this guy so he must be the right guy.” Since that time, Martinez has refused to speak with anyone on Snow’s defense team in reference to the case. Foster testified in Claycomb’s trial, but unfortunately was not called to testify in Snow’s trial.
Jeffery Pelo’s statements completely shred Martinez’s claims. In an affidavit made available after Snow’s trial, Pelo states that after arriving to the service station in response to a holdup call, he saw Martinez filling his tires with air. He then witnessed Martinez start walking toward the service station and then turn back to look at his vehicle (just as Martinez described). Pelo then witnessed Martinez get into his vehicle and drive away. According to Pelo there was no one else in the parking lot with Martinez. No near collision with anyone leaving the station ever took place. Pelo states: “I am absolutely positive that from the time I arrived at the Empire and Linden intersection in response to the 1090 (hold up/panic alarm) call to the time that I eventually entered the gas station, no one other than Bill Little was either in the gas station or entered or exited the gas station. I had a clear, un-obstructed view of the gas station door and was focusing on the station because I was concerned about the 1090 call and the fact that I couldn’t see anyone inside.”
Pelo’s affidavit makes it clear that Danny Martinez could not have seen anyone exiting the service station as he suggested in his testimony. In an unfortunate turn of events, Pelo has since been convicted on multiple rape charges and is currently serving a 440 year prison sentence for his heinous crimes. This news certainly jeopardizes Pelo’s credibility, but the fact is Pelo’s testimony regarding Martinez is backed up by his recorded radio call to police headquarters on the night of the murder, detailing what he witnessed upon his arrival to the station. Pelo’s statements are further proven by a recorded police interview with Pelo in 1999, shortly before trial in which Pelo once again detailed what he saw the night before. These recordings prove that Pelo’s statements have remained consistent from day one. This interview was not used at trial, and only became available to Snow when he went pro se in 2004 and received his discovery. Snow had already been sitting in prison for five years before he first heard this evidence.
When looking at the actual facts of this case, it is clear that Snow’s public defender, Frank Picl, neglected to properly represent his client. Picl miserably failed to effectively investigate the prosecution’s witnesses, leaving much of the information in this article undiscovered until after Snow’s conviction. Picl also failed to utilize vital information made available at Claycomb’s trial that would have greatly benefitted his client. Picl’s negligence is further highlighted by the fact that Snow was convicted while his alleged accomplice was fully exonerated. Both faced the same faulty evidence, but unfortunately, only one had a competent attorney.
There is absolutely no credible evidence of any kind linking Jamie Snow to the murder of William Little. It is now clear that his conviction should be reversed outright or a new trial should be granted based on new evidence that was not made available to the jury during the first trial. Prosecutors built their case on snitch testimony that has now been discredited and on eyewitness testimony that has either been recanted or proven false.
There is also evidence that remains untested. Blood samples and fingerprints collected at the scene of the crime have yet to be tested using current technology and the bullets have never been properly analyzed. Snow’s defense team has repeatedly requested testing on this evidence. All motions to date have been denied.
All of Snow’s appeals to date have been rejected based on technical issues.
Snow’s attorneys filed a federal habeas corpus petition on May 28, 2013, along with new motions for DNA and fingerprint testing filed with the Clerk of the Court of McLean County, Illinois. It is time for the nonsense to end.Snow is now serving his13th year in prison for a crime he did not commit.