I often pride myself in knowing particular things about the law. In doing this blog of course I learn new things. Each case is specific and teach different things. Sometimes I may learn, as I recently have, that a state has abolished the death penalty, or maybe they seem close to doing so. Sometimes I may learn that a court has overturned a conviction that I was unaware of prior to researching deeper into a case. But, if someone would have asked me if there was a Statue of Limitations on murder I would have answered with a resounding no. I would have been wrong, although admittedly just barely. New Mexico is apparently the only state in which a statue of limitations exists on murder. And, it seems that until the early 2000's it applied to all degrees of murder. It was then that it was changed but only regarding first degree murder. What this meant was that any murder that was “solved” past the six year statue of limitations could only be tried in a court under the first degree murder rules. So, if a murder is not discovered within that time frame and they did not reach the levels of first degree murder, they could not be prosecuted. Now, I would gander to guess that investigators would at least attempt to find other things to get a perpetrator on in extreme cases if they could. We have seen that happen in cases in which a defendant has been acquitted of murder and they could not be retried so the prosecutors found other charges they could file that were not direct murder charges. The case of Mel Ignato comes to mind.
It seems that the senators and representatives on New Mexico have tried over the years to remedy this issue in New Mexico with no avail. It is cases like this one of Ellen Snyder that will often ignite the fight again. My research stated that the bills that have been introduced to abolish these statue of limitations have died in the state house. My last reference stated it was being tried again in 2015 but I found no results so I can only assume that nothing has changed. Until it does my answer of there being no statue of limitations on murder remains incorrect when it comes to New Mexico.
The last contact that anyone had with Albuquerque resident Michael Snyder was on January 11, 2002. He was living in a home that he had had built with his wife, Ellen, her seventeen year old son from a previous relationship and the couple's six year old daughter. Ellen would tell people that Michael had all but just left and deserted them. As time went on she sprinkled a few other details out like claiming that Michael was having an affair with another man and she had discovered this and hence his leaving his family. No one that knew Michael seemed to believe the latter story.
For their part, Michael's family would claim that the Snyder marriage was nearing it's end. They would claim that Michael, who had become disabled after being diagnosed with MS the previous summer, had been moving things out of the home and had taken to sleeping on the couch in the den of the home. It seems as if their pleas to find Michael landed on deaf ears and not much was done about the case.
Then in 2010 Ellen Snyder's son, now around twenty-five years old, told a friend what had really happened to Michael Snyder in the early morning hours of January 11, 2002. That friend would tell authorities and the case would be blown wide open. According to Ellen's son, he had heard his mother and stepfather arguing and had then heard several gunshots. He had run into the room in which they were and had grabbed the phone to call 9-1-1 but his mother had stopped him. On the floor lay Michael Snyder, dead. At that point it seems that Ellen covered Michael's body that was now in the hallway with a sheet or blanket of some kind and left him there while she went about her day and went to work.
Whether Ellen left Michael's body there in the hallway for a few days or it was moved is unclear but she did go and rent a back hoe to have a hole dug in the backyard of the home. She then convinced her teenage son to help her move Michael's body into the hole. It was said she did not just put Michael's body in the hole but had also added some every day trash also. Was that a sign she was trying to relay to the dead? She then filled the hole and eventually had a concrete slab placed on the area.
By 2010 when the story got out Ellen was no longer living in the home she had shared with Michael. At that time it was owned by two local Albuquerque police officers who readily allowed a search to be done on their property. They would find the remains of Michael Snyder just where they had been told to find him.
As is the case in any murder investigation a case must be built in order to take the case to court and in New Mexico that would be made more difficult with the statue of limitations at hand. They had long ran out so the only way that Ellen Snyder could be taken in front of a jury in relation to the murder of her husband would be with first degree murder charges. Investigators of course had the story as to what had supposedly happened as relayed by her son and they knew they could likely get her on tax fraud charges considering she had apparently continued to live for at least some time as if Michael was alive and claimed taxes. They also knew they could likely get her on tampering with evidence as long as they could prove her son's story correct, proving that she knew of course that her husband was dead and that instead of reporting it she had hidden his body. But, proving first degree, intentional murder would be more difficult, especially considering the time that had elapsed and the story Ellen would go on to tell.
Of course Ellen was eventually arrested on charges. It does not appear this was something new to Ellen though. In 1988 she had been arrested and pleaded guilty to twenty-nine counts of forgery. I cannot tell you what, if any time she received for this or even what the charges were for. She was again charged with two counts of forgery in 2005. By May of 2011 Ellen wanted to make a deal with prosecutors and since they were not confident in their ability to obtain a conviction for first degree murder they began hashing things out with her. Michael's family would be very vocal about this issue stating that they were never consulted about the plea deal and that in their opinion they were willing to take the chances of taking the case to court. I am fairly certain by this time the family had been made aware of the obstacles facing the prosecution and knew that taking the case to court could have ended in an acquittal but as I said, they were vocal about wanting to take that chance.
In the end however Ellen had been allowed to plead her case. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, tax fraud and tampering with evidence. Without the plea, or the statue of limitations facing them she could have faced over 200 years in jail. Instead with the plea agreement the maximum she could receive was eleven years. At her sentencing in July of course her defense attorney attempted to get the lowest time possible while the prosecution fought for the maximum. The judge agreed with the prosecution and she did get the maximum of eleven years. It was little consultation to the Snyder family but at least she was given all that she could.
Soon after her plea agreement was reached Ellen Snyder granted interviews. This is when her side of the story would become more public and one could see what the defense would have offered had the case gone to trial. She would state she had no regrets at what she had done. She would argue that she had shot Michael in self defense after they had an argument and she had supposedly threatened to tell everyone that he was gay. She would claim that he came after her and that she had picked up a gun on the nightstand and began firing. She would be quoted as saying, “I start shooting. I don't know how to use a gun. I show the wall, I shot the TV. I shot the floor, I shot him. He turned to run. I emptied the whole gun.” It was said that she shot eight bullets but it was unclear how many actually struck Michael.
Ellen would claim throughout that she had been abused by Michael and her defense attorney had every intention of putting on a “battered woman's” defense. As is often the case despite the claims of abuse and even others claiming to have seen bruises or signs, nothing was ever reported to the police. Those close to Michael claim that not only had they never seen him be abusive but that he had been sick in recent months and was less than a threat than he ever could have been.
While I never heard anything about any sort of life insurance available, and in fairness Ellen never told anyone he died, only that he had run off, the prosecutors would say that at the time of Michael's death the couple was over $475,000 in debt among twenty creditors. It is believed that the majority of these debts were attributed to Ellen or at least her inability to manage their money or her spending.
After her plea agreement not only was Michael's family outraged but so were investigators, prosecutors and the general public but as I said earlier it seems that at the current time the law has not changed.