On June 25, 2000, Glyn Fowler, 84, and his wife, Vivian, 79, were found dead in their B-Section home in Palm Coast. They’d been bludgeoned and stabbed to death. David Snelgrove, 27 at the time, a neighbor the Fowlers had often helped, befriended and given money, was indicted for the double murder. He was a drug addict and had been after cash or jewelry to pawn. DNA from the Fowlers’ blood was found in his home, as were bloody fingerprints and footprints matching Snelgrove’s, though he denied involvement.
Snelgrove has twice been sentenced to death for the two murders in a case that remains unresolved: Snelgrove, now 42, was back in Flagler County Circuit court this morning, this time arguing that he’d received ineffective counsel at trial, and emphasizing through his attorneys his mental disabilities in an attempt to yet again overturn his death sentence.
Snelgrove, dressed in the striped, green and white prison garb reserved for death row inmates, sat in shackles, speaking with one of his attorneys before the proceedings began, often smiling, laughing occasionally, and speaking in an unusually high-pitched, almost infantile voice. His short-cropped hair has almost all grayed. His expression during the hearing was more bland, but not anxious.
“It’s been a nightmare. I’d like to put it to rest, get it over with,” Randy Fowler, 63, the son of the murdered couple, said today. “The judicial system is taking way too long. Too many excuses. Too many appeals. But I guess it’s our system.” Fowler was in court with his sister. Both live in Long Beach, Calif., where Randy was living when Long Beach police knocked at his door to inform him of his parents’ fate. Having to witness the hearings, and see Snelgrove every time, “brings up the crime every time,” Fowler said. “Seeing him still alive is sickening, you know. It’s not fair to my parents, it’s not fair to us.”
Early in the morning’s testimonies, John Valerino, who had led Snelgrove’s defense as a public defender, testified in defense of his own performance at trial. He did so next to nine archive boxes that sat on a tray, rising almost the length of an average person’s height, and representing the extent of the case’s length and complexity. John Tanner, the former state attorney–and the state attorney at the time of the original trial and sentencing–was also scheduled to testify.
The trial began at a time when the words “mental retardation” were still routinely used (as they were today), though Snelgrove’s latest attorney was careful to note that the term today is “mental disability.” The terms were interchangeably used much of the morning as witnesses and attorneys dealt with the morning’s matter: the defense sought to show that Snelgrove’s earlier defense team, at trial, failed him by not rigorously pursuing evidence of his mental disability, and the prosecution seeking to counter those claims by showing that what evidence has turned up remains sketchy without providing convincing arguments to change the outcome of the convictions.
“There were no records that would indicate that he was mentally retarded or mentally disabled,” John Valerino, the public defender and lead counsel on Snelgrove’s defense team, said. Valerino said his team failed to locate anyone who might have documented his mental disabilities. Judge Walsh himself at one point asked Valerino if he’d had any success developing a case supporting Snelgrove’s mental disability. Valerino said no. He cited findings that Snelgrove “may have been a problem in school, but that he wasn’t diagnosed as mentally retarded,” nor was there anything in the record that anyone could find, he said, that would document such disability.
In most states that still impose the death penalty, juries must have unanimity to recommend death. A simple majority is enough for a jury to recommend a death sentence in Florida, and a super-majority of at least 10 jurors, out of 2, is required in Alabama. In both the latter cases, the jury’s recommendation is advisory only: a judge imposes the actual sentence.
Snelgrove lived with his aunt Alice Snelgrove on Bayside Drive in Palm Coast’s B-Section. The Fowlers’ bodies were found in their home in their pajamas on Bannbury Lane, near Bayside. They were killed between June 23 and June 25, 2000. It was Alice Snelgrove who, according to a news account at the time, may have alerted neighbors to something being amiss with her neighbors: she noticed that newspapers hadn’t been picked up, and that their vehicle was still in the driveway, though they were supposed to be out of town. That helped lead to the discovery of the killings. On the 26th, deputies recovered the knife used in the attacks. It was in woods next to Snelgrove’s house.
At trial, a jury in 2002 voted 7-5 to recommend the death sentence for Snelgrove. Kim C. Hammond, the circuit judge at the time, followed the jury’s recommendation. In 2005, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Snelgrove’s death sentences, but on a technicality: it upheld his conviction but found that the jury should not have been given instructions on issuing one recommendation for both murders.
A second sentencing phase unfolded in 2008, when Snelgrove’s defense attorneys attempted to mitigate the sentence by emphasizing his mental disabilities. But they had difficulties documenting those disabilities, even though they established that he attended classes in special education, and had an IQ of 77, seven points above the minimum required to make an individual eligible for the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally disabled is unconstitutional.) The jury voted 8-4 to impose the death penalty in both killings. Hammond again followed the recommendation. The Supreme Court in 2013 upheld that ruling.
“My parents were wonderful,” Randy Fowler said today. “They were such good people they offered him work in our backyard before he did this. They were wonderful people. Church-going. They were supposed to be in church, and that’s how their bodies were discovered. They didn’t show up for church. They were ushers that day, and instead of going to church, they were murdered.”
The elder Fowlers had been in Palm Coast 20 years. They were from Nutley, N.J. Glyn had been superintendent of schools in Nutley. Vivian was the vice president of an insurance agency.
Death row inmates routinely contest their convictions by arguing ineffective representation. They rarely prevail.