Nineteen years ago in Palm Coast’s B Section, David Snelgrove murdered Glyn Fowler, 84, and his wife, Vivian, 79. He was twice sentenced to die–in 2002 and 2008. The verdict was not unanimous either times.
As Snelgrove awaited execution on Death Row, the law changed. Florida had been among the few states that allowed death-penalty recommendations not to be unanimous. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional in 2016. Florida changed its law accordingly. A unanimous verdict is now required. Snelgrove’s conviction for the two murders is not contested: he’s not getting a new trial on that. But he’s scheduled for his third sentencing trial in Flagler in January.
He was in court in Bunnell again today in his lawyers’ latest attempt to not get that far: they were arguing, as his lawyers have before, that Snelgrove’s mental capacities make him ineligible for the death penalty. His IQ hovers around 70, the cut-off below which the Supreme Court ruled individuals may not be eligible for the death penalty. But at several steps in the process, including two decisions by the Florida Supreme Court, Snelgrove has lost the argument that he is intellectually disabled.
He lost again today. Circuit Judge Kathryn Weston–the fourth judge on the case going back to the late Kim C. Hammond–denied a renewed attempt to argue intellectual disability. But the hearing points to one of the strategies Snelgrove’s defense attorneys will apply at trial in hopes of winning commutation from the death penalty when a jury of 12 will decide the issue.
Michael Nielsen, one of Snelgrove’s attorneys, had filed a motion to prohibit the imposition of a death sentence following an IQ test finding Snelgrove “likely mentally retarded” according to state law, a finding “based on test scores and collateral information gathered about” him. The examining physician, Stephen Bloomfield, is expected to testify at trial.
Arguing before Weston this morning, Michael Stone, who is also defending Snelgrove, said the defense recognizes that the Florida Supreme Court has twice ruled against Snelgrove. But Stone pointed the judge to a dissent in one of the Supreme Court’s decisions to argue that relying on IQ scores isn’t enough. The court’s test is three-pronged: a defendant must have “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning,” must have “concurrent deficits in adaptive behavior,” and must have “manifestation of the condition before age eighteen.”
“You have to consider all three factors, and they have to be considered in tandem,” Stone said.
Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Dunton, who is prosecuting this phase of the case, said the Supreme Court did just that–twice, while the defense hasn’t come up with new evidence regarding Snelgrove’s past. (That has been one of the defense’s obstacles: there’s a dearth of school records it can rely on.)
“I think that the state has the right argument. I don’t think that there’s any new evidence that’s been presented,” Weston said as she denied the motion.
That’s not the end of pre-trial motions. The defense, to Snelgrove’s exasperation, said it still wanted to return to court possibly in November to argue further motions. Snelgrove shook his head and sighed. He had in late August written Weston to talk about his dental appointments, which keep getting cancelled because of court hearings. He is tired of making the trip from state prison to the Flagler jail whenever hearings are scheduled. “In the 19 years I’ve caused no trouble for anyone, I’ve done what has been asked of me, and have never asked for anything,” he wrote the judge on Aug. 25, this is the one time I’m asking for something.”
He was asking for today’s hearing to be held in November. He didn’t get his wish. His dental appointment was cancelled. He addressed the judge in person today. “I was going to ask if you can just give me 60 days” without a hearing, he told Weston. “If you can leave me alone for 60 days to get this done and over with, I’d be happy.”
The judge told him he did not have to be brought back for the November hearing, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 12. It was a minor victory in an otherwise larger loss.
The sentencing trial is scheduled to start on Jan. 6. The judge is asking for three panels of 50 potential jurors each–150 potential jurors in all, for a jury-selection schedule that may stretch over three days. The reason: 12 jurors must be picked, and no juror who is against the death penalty is eligible, nor, generally, are jurors who are too rabidly for the death penalty, either. Inevitably, a huge number of potential jurors are thus disqualified. For Flagler County, it’ll be the first such re-sentencing trial since the nation’s and the state’s highest courts overturned Florida’s death penalty scheme.