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Homicide Case Limits Debated

SANTA FE – A proposal to do away with the statute of limitations on all types of homicide cases lurched forward Thursday, though members of a Senate panel expressed concern that the measure might be too far-reaching.

The attempt to change state law is based on the case of Michael Snyder, an Albuquerque man killed by his wife in 2002.

Snyder’s body was found in 2010 – wrapped in garbage bags and buried under a concrete pad next to his home – but Ellen Snyder pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, partly because the statute of limitations had expired on everything she was charged with except first-degree murder.

Had she been convicted of all the charges she was indicted on, Ellen Snyder could have faced 251 years in prison. Instead, she was sentenced in July 2011 to 11 years – the maximum the judge could impose under the plea deal.

Michael Snyder’s sisters attended Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Public Affairs Committee and said they were disheartened by committee members’ vote to alter the bill’s intent by amending certain provisions.

“It’s disappointing to see the opposition to something we thought was a no-brainer,” said one of Snyder’s sisters, Teri Johnson of Albuquerque.

The bill sponsored by Senate GOP Whip William Payne of Albuquerque seeks to remove time limits on prosecution on charges of second-degree murder, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, assisted suicide or homicide by vehicle.

Under state law, there is no statute of limitations for first-degree murder. However, various time restrictions are in place for filing other felony and misdemeanor charges.

Democratic committee members said the proposed legislation, SB 37, would go too far and moved successfully to narrow the bill’s scope by only eliminating the statute of limitations for second-degree murder.

“It just seems like the bill is a little more ambitious than addressing (this) particular case,” said Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, addressing his comments to Snyder’s sisters.

The legislation was also opposed Thursday by the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the ACLU. In amended form, it now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Payne acknowledged it faces “tough sledding.”

Michael Snyder’s relatives, who opposed the plea deal, said they hope the legislation, if passed, would prevent other families from enduring an ordeal such as theirs.

“Nobody should have to go through this,” said Laura Bowman, Snyder’s sister. “We just feel the system failed us.”

At least one other measure addressing the statute of limitations on criminal cases has also been brought forward during the current 30-day legislative session.