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“The Letter” – A Utah family weighs the death penalty

Sep 21, 2022, 11:00 AM | Updated: Dec 20, 2023, 2:52 pm

death Benvenuto The Letter Yvette Rodier Zach Snarr...

FILE: Yvette Rodier speaks to the court on Jan. 30, 1998, during a sentencing hearing for the man who shot her and shot and killed Zachary Snarr. (Kristan Jacobsen/ Deseret News)

(Kristan Jacobsen/ Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It was the way the medical examiner described how bullets from a stranger’s gun ended her son’s life that sent Sy Snarr into a tailspin.

“The day the medical examiner testified I think was the worst day of my life,” she said. “Because she did show a drawing of Zach and talked about where he shot him and … after he’d shot him twice, he actually held the gun point blank to his head.

“And I had not known that. And that really affected me. It did,” Sy said. “And I had driven myself down there and I literally had to pull over; I could not drive home because I was wailing, sobbing. It really – it just killed me that that had happened to that beautiful boy of mine, you know that his life ended that way. It was hard.”

A change of heart and mind

Sy Snarr and her family had hoped the man accused of killing Zachary Snarr and gravely wounding his friend, Yvette Rodier, would receive the toughest punishment available – the death penalty. But as the months wore on, little things began to indicate Sy Snarr may not have the emotional stamina to endure a trial that detailed her son’s killing.

FILE: Zach Snarr's brothers, (l to r) Levi, 17  and Trent, 23 wait outside courtroom for the sentencing of Benvenuto.  (Kristan Jacobsen) FILE: Outside a courtroom, mother to Zach Snarr,  Sy Snarr hold large picture of Zach. (Kristan Jacabsen)

One night, she was watching the news and a reporter began talking about a killing at a video store.

“They were showing drawings of this person’s body showing where she had been stabbed over and over,” she said of the news report. “And I thought, I cannot watch this on TV about Zach, I can’t do it.”

There was an option that prosecutors began discussing with both the Snarr and Rodier families. A 1992 law was passed and now offered judges and juries a third option for a capital murder case. In addition to the death penalty and five years to life sentences, prosecutors now could offer life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After a tour of the Utah State Prison, the Snars saw this as the most ‘just’ option.

“My older brother Trent said that it gave him nightmares,” said Sydney Snarr Davis, who didn’t go on the tour with her family but discussed it with them.

“It was so awful, and I remember him telling me that I think I would rather die than live the rest of my life in that hellhole. And, at that point, I was like, ‘Well then, good. Do it.’ You know, let’s forget about him. He can go in there and rot.’”

Davis is referring to Jorge Benvenuto, who shot and killed her brother Zachary Snarr on Aug 28, 1996, at Little Dell Reservoir.

Justice meant anything that keep the killer away

Rodier was a newlywed and attending college. She didn’t think the punishment for Benvenuto was her decision to make, although she said her family favored the death penalty.

“I don’t recall thinking about it at that time,” Rodier said. “I definitely knew I was afraid of him. And so if there was something that would keep him away from me, I was all for it. But I – I don’t think I ever wished death upon him.”

Both families hoped a plea agreement would mean the end of their nightmare, but they were wrong. It would persist, on many fronts, for much longer than anyone expected.

Listen to Episode 4: A Death Penalty Waiting to Happen, below or at the KSL Podcasts webpage.

 

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“The Letter” – A Utah family weighs the death penalty