The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 1, 2014

Bench trial OK'd for suspect in yoga master's murder

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Union-Snyder Judge Michael T. Hudock will preside at the murder trial of Joel R. Snider in June and decide his fate.

Snider, 37, of St. Louis, Mo., was granted a bench trial Tuesday after waiving his right to a jury trial.

“I’m taking (prescription medication) and believe I am of sound mind to understand,” he told Hudock during the morning hearing, held to determine whether Snider was fully aware that he was giving up his right to select a 12-member jury that would have to reach a unanimous verdict.

Snider faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of the July 2010 murder of New Berlin yoga master Sudharman.

The 70-year-old victim, also known as Joe Fenton, was fatally shot in his home, which also served as a yoga studio.

The bench trial is scheduled to begin June 2.

Co-defense counsel Edward “E.J.” Rymsza and William Miele are pursing a mental health defense for Snider, who allegedly sent emails to an acquaintance describing his plan to kill Sudharman before the slaying took place.

In January, prosecutor Anthony Forray, a deputy attorney general appointed to the case after Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson recused himself because he was a friend of the victim, withdrew capital punishment as a possible penalty.

Hudock said Snider will be transferred from the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township to the Union County Jail about a month before the trial to allow the defense attorneys easier access to him. Snider was moved to state prison about a year ago, officials said, for his and others’ safety after he allegedly assaulted another inmate and complained of being harassed by cellmates.

Snider’s appearance has changed quite a bit during the more than three years he’s been in custody.

At the time of his arrest, the then 33-year-old was clean-shaven and bald. In February, he came to court with a mop of brown curly hair, a bushy beard and dark-rimmed glasses. On Tuesday, his beard was shaved, and his slick hair was combed back.