No DNA Until the State Supreme Court Said So

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In 1990 when Melinda Snyder was murdered, Rock Hill, South Carolina authorities thought they had the killer in Edward Cronell, a real estate agent.  Cronell, as all real estate agents, had access to a lock box on the front door knob of the house where Melinda Snyder was sleeping. The owner of the house had put it up for sale.

For those not familiar with a lock box, the key to the house is inside a metal box which can be opened by a common key that all real estate agents carry.

Why did the authorities think they had their killer? Because Cronell would not submit his DNA for analysis.

South Carolina laws must differ considerably from other states. In many other states, officers can discreetly follow a suspect around to a fast food restaurant, for example, watch him drink from a cup or straw, and retrieve that for DNA testing after he has left the premises. That is analyzed, and if there is a match, the DA’s office then takes it to a judge for him/her to rule that a DNA sample can be taken from the suspect himself. That was not done in this case.

There is another explanation.  The first successful case where DNA was used for a conviction was in 1988 in England.

In 1990 when Melinda Snyder was murdered, DNA in the States was in its early stages, and blood might have been considered the only reliable method of testing DNA. Blood is what the investigators in the Melinda Snyder case kept talking about in the TV show about it, ‘Nightmare Next Door”.

Now we know that saliva is just as reliable as blood, as are other body fluids, because the South Carolina Supreme Court in their ruling said that body fluids could be taken from Edward Cronell for analysis that just about covers all avenues.

Cronell may have been drunk the night he attacked Melinda. He had been at a bar drinking. Even drunks though don’t normally become murderers.

Whether he drove to the house where Melinda was intentionally or not is not known. He had the key to the lock box, and that’s all that mattered. He raped Melinda and then shot her, possibly with a pillow muffling the sound.

One of Melinda’s housemates was in another bedroom, but according to the TV show, did not stir out of her room. That housemate did hear some strange sounds coming from Melinda’s bedroom, but did not investigate. The owner of the house, a third housemate, was not home at the time.

I imagine Melinda’s second housemate wishes she had intervened, but there was nothing she could have done.  I’m certain she would have been raped and murdered by Cronell as well. I have to believe she thinks about it every day, but two murdered victims would not have helped the situation.

When everything quieted down in the house, Melinda heard a car engine start up, and looked outside, according to the TV program, to see a white car with black molding on the door’s lower panel drive away. When Melinda’s second housemate told the police about the car and the molding that was further proof, though not conclusive, that it was Cronell, because his car had that black molding.

There was an actress portrayal of Melinda’s third housemate, as there are all actors and actresses for the TV program. Nothing was said about how lucky she considered herself to be that she was not there that night. Whatever the circumstances, she was fortunate as Melinda was not.

Between 1992 when Cronell’s DNA was finally obtained, and it confirmed him as the killer, and the trial in 1994, there was legal wrangling. Although not specified, I’m sure it centered on the reliability of DNA because of the newness of it. The DNA was probably the keynote in Cronell’s conviction, along with other pertinent information. I’m surprised the defense was not able to take the question about the reliability of DNA to the South Carolina Supreme Court and even the U. S. Supreme Court.

Cronell’s official conviction in 1994 read murder, burglary, and first degree criminal sexual conduct.  He received a sentence of life plus 30 years.

Due to some laws on the books at the time of Melinda’s murder and Cronell’s conviction he came up for parole in 2014, which was denied. He is due for another parole hearing on 9/21/16. Let’s hope he doesn’t get out.

I don’t know what it is that declared Melinda Snyder should die on that night in 1990, and that her second housemate, only a few feet away, should live, and that Melinda’s third housemate should not even be there. Melinda’s parents must think the same thing, although I’m sure they would have wished no harm on anyone else that night, only what could have changed that allowed their daughter to live.

I wish I had the answer to that, but I don’t. I have written about so many murders that happened where a small change would have not allowed the circumstances to be there for a murder to be committed.

Had the house already been sold, then the lock box would not have been on the front door knob. Had the owner of the house, Melinda’s third housemate, decided not to sell, and taken the house off the market. Had Melinda not been in the house that night, and only Melinda’s second housemate, she would have probably been murdered, because Cronell seemed to be intent on the first person he found. Had Cronell not gone to the bar that night. Had he probably not been drunk, and just driven on home, lacking the viciousness of a possible polluted mind to dictate to him what he would do that night.

The world is full of ifs, none of which ever find themselves into reality.

Melinda Snyder, a 22-year old, then as a teacher’s aide, moving toward becoming a teacher, a teacher of children who would have returned years later to tell her what she had taught them about life.

Instead Melinda was taught about murder by a man who didn’t care, about a man who had nothing to offer life except death.

 

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