The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 22, 2014

No death penalty for suspect in Sudharman slaying case

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Joel R. Snider will not face the death penalty if convicted of the July 2010 first-degree slaying of New Berlin yoga master Sudharman.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Forray has withdrawn a notice of aggravating circumstances required to seek capital punishment in the event of a conviction.

“We’re thrilled. We never thought this was a death case,” said defense attorney Edward “E.J.” Rymsza on Tuesday.

He and co-counsel William Miele, both of Williamsport, are pursuing a mental health defense case for Snider, 36, of St. Louis, who now faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of breaking into the New Berlin home and yoga studio of Sudharman, 70, also known as Joe Fenton, and fatally shooting him while he slept.

Snider, a former yoga student of Sudharman, allegedly sent emails to another yoga instructor detailing his plan to kill Sudharman weeks before the slaying.

The homicide case was turned over to the state Attorney General’s Office after Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson recused himself because of his friendship with the victim.

The original prosecutor, Frank Fina, sought the death penalty based on the aggravating circumstance that Snider committed a felony burglary as well.

Fina fought hard to keep the death penalty as an option, successfully appealing Union-Snyder President Judge Michael H. Sholley’s 2012 ruling dismissing the burglary charge and removing the aggravating circumstance.

Fina left the state Attorney General’s Office in January 2013 and the task of prosecuting the homicide case was turned over to Forray.

Rymsza praised Forray’s decision to withdraw the death penalty.

“We knew when this case changed hands we actually had a shot,” he said.

The defense attorneys presented their case for life, including many mitigating factors such as Snider’s extensive mental health history, to Forray a year ago.

It took about a year for the state to act, but Rymsza said he understands since it was likely not Forray’s decision to make on his own.

“I think with decisions like this, regarding death, there is a chain of command,” he said.

Forray could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Motions in the case are scheduled to be heard in Union County court on Feb. 7.