By Gintautas Dumcius
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — A Sheffield man appears to have enough votes from the Governor’s Council to become the first person granted a pardon since 2002.
Jeffrey Snyder, a 43-year-old cancer survivor, appeared before the Governor’s Council on Monday, requesting a pardon for a drug-related crime he committed in 1989 while in high school.
As an 18-year-old senior at Monument Mountain Region High School in 1989, Snyder was found guilty of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of marijuana within a school zone.
One of the first defendants convicted of a school zone violation, he served a mandatory two-year sentence at the Berkshire County House of Correction.
Snyder, who is currently unemployed but “eager” to get back to work, said he hoped to work in public schools if he received the pardon.
“I know that getting a job in public schools is a pretty much a no-no with a felony on the record,” he told councilors.
Five councilors on the eight-member body said they would support his request, including Councilors Michael Albano, Oliver Cipollini, Eileen Duff, Christopher Iannella and Terrence Kennedy.
Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless wrote a letter opposing a pardon to the chair of the Advisory Board of Pardons, which recommended Snyder’s request to the governor.
“The petition lacks the minimum basis for consideration of a recommendation of a pardon to the Governor, and the petitioner minimizes his culpability of the crimes for which he was convicted and sentenced,” Capeless wrote in a letter dated Oct. 31, 2014.
“Moreover, the petitioner characterizes his crimes as ones of possession, when what he was charged with and convicted of was being a drug dealer, selling to high school students on school property,” he added.
While Snyder may have been one of the first defendants convicted of a school zone law violation, “he is but one of thousands over the ensuing twenty-five years,” DA Capeless said in the letter.
Councilors Jennie Caissie and Robert Jubinville questioned why Snyder did not attempt to seal his records instead of pursuing a pardon.
Snyder said he did not realize that option was available to him until the Advisory Board of Pardons, which is an arm of the state Parole Board, told him. He continued to pursue the pardon.
Albano, who chaired the council hearing on Snyder’s pardon request, said he had a “very compelling case” and there is a “big difference” between a sealed record and a pardon.
Snyder is one of four people who have been recommended for a pardon by Gov. Deval Patrick. The last gubernatorial pardons were in 2002, when Jane Swift was acting governor.
The council, which vets pardons, commutations and the governor’s judicial nominees, could vote on Snyder’s request next week.
Snyder received his GED while incarcerated, and later worked for nearly 17 years at the Kolburne School in New Marlborough until the private school closed in June 2012. He has also volunteered as a coach for youth girls basketball and umpired two charity softball tournaments.
Councilor Kennedy called Snyder’s sentence an “indictment” of society and a “horrific punishment.”
“A high school kid should’ve been treated very, very differently,” Kennedy said. “They were making an example out of you.”
Councilor Iannella expressed surprise at the length of the sentence. “Whoa,” he said. “I can’t believe it. You paid a heavy price for that.”
But Councilor Caissie said a pardon constitutes “extraordinary relief.” She said she believed Snyder has been a “good citizen,” but she wondered if “alternative relief” could be pursued.
Councilor Jubinville said he dislikes the school zone law, but echoed Caissie in saying pardons are an “extraordinary remedy.”
“You’ve been a good citizen,” Jubinville told Snyder. “You’ve coached, you’ve umpired and that’s great. I don’t know if I would put those things in extraordinary circumstances.”
Snyder’s pardon petition includes letters of support from 2012, written by employees at the Kolburne School, including its director of nursing. The director, Margo Drohan, wrote that Snyder had “an untarnished record of employment” at the school.