A Death Sentence Waiting to Happen

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At age 19 and just a few months older than the teens he shot, Jorge Benvenuto faces the possibility of a death sentence. As his court-appointed attorneys fight to save his life, the families of the victims struggle with what justice might look like.

Get more information and photos on our website, theletterpodcast.com.

Researched and reported by Amy Donaldson

Written by Amy Donaldson and Andrea Smardon

Production and sound design by Andrea Smardon

Mixing by Trent Sell

Special thanks to Nina Earnest, Becky Bruce, KellieAnn Halvorsen, Ryan Meeks, Ben Kuebrich, Josh Tilton and Dave Cawley.

Main musical score composed by Allison Leyton Brown

With KSL Podcasts Executive Producer Sheryl Worsley

For Lemonada Media, Executive Producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs

And Executive Producers Paul Anderson and Nick Panella with WorkHouse Media.

The Letter is produced by KSL Podcasts and Lemonada Media in association with WorkHouse Media.

Surviving a barrage of bullets is just the start of what Yvette Rodier will have to do to reclaim her life. The emotional damage will take far longer to heal than the physical bullet wounds. She gets married, has a child and chooses a career that allows her to use her past to help others.

Despite the looming shadow of the shooting, her life is one of beauty and generosity; of resilience and hope.

Get more information and photos on our website, theletterpodcast.com.

Researched and reported by Amy Donaldson

Written by Amy Donaldson and Andrea Smardon

Production and sound design by Andrea Smardon

Mixing by Trent Sell

Special thanks to Nina Earnest, Becky Bruce, KellieAnn Halvorsen, Ryan Meeks, Ben Kuebrich, Josh Tilton and Dave Cawley

Main musical score composed by Allison Leyton Brown

With KSL Podcasts Executive Producer Sheryl Worsley

For Lemonada Media, Executive Producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs

And Executive Producers Paul Anderson and Nick Panella with WorkHouse Media

The Letter is produced by KSL Podcasts and Lemonada Media in association with WorkHouse Media.

The Letter is sponsored by Hunt a Killer, immersive mystery games where you get to be the detective. Get $10 off at huntakiller.com/theletter with code THELETTER.
For a full list of current sponsors and discount codes for this and all other Lemonada series, you can visit lemonadamedia.com/sponsors
See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.



Sy Snarr, Marcela Howell, Roger Blaylock, Speaker 4, Marc Moffett, Keith Stevens, Amy Donaldson, Danielle, Sydney, Bob Steele, Tony, Ron Snarr, Yvette Rodier

Amy Donaldson  00:01

A warning to listeners. This podcast includes descriptions of gun violence and associated trauma. Please take care when listening.

Sy Snarr  01:39

The police called and I’d actually been up for so long I had I guess they tell me. I was standing there and all sudden I just passed out on the floor, they’d put me in bed and my husband came in and said they got him. They got him. And I was like coming to you and I’m like what and then it hit me like they got him.

Amy Donaldson  02:17

From KSL podcast, I’m Amy Donaldson. And this is THE LETTER, Episode Four, A Death Sentence Waiting to Happen. After her son’s funeral, sighs now remembers prosecutor Bob Stott coming to her home to discuss the case with her.

Sy Snarr  02:46

I said kill him. I actually said that, because I thought he deserves to die. I wanted him to die.

Amy Donaldson  02:56

Detective Keith Stevens presented everything police found to prosecutors. The way it looked to Keith, Sy would get her wish.

Keith Stevens  03:04

We have to find all of the elements of the crime. And all of the elements of this crime pointed to a capital case. They had

Amy Donaldson  03:11

They have a confession, sympathetic victims and a strong eyewitness. It was not Keith decision to make. But he could have some influence.

Keith Stevens  03:20

I became quite a salesman into pushing what I felt was the right thing to do. And of course, we have input from other people also. But we will advocate, I will sell the case.

Amy Donaldson  03:35

So did you see this as a capital case? 

Keith Stevens  03:37


Amy Donaldson  03:42

Attorney Roger Blaylock was on the prosecuting team that would make the case against the defendant.

Roger Blaylock  03:53

It was just a very bad fact situation. And by bad I don’t mean your prosecutor. It’s a good situation because it’s so terrible. You know, your two young people up at the reservoir just kind of taking pictures of the balloon and somebody comes up and shoots them both, you know, bam, bam. What is there about the defendant that is socially redeeming?

Amy Donaldson  04:22

In 1996, Marc Moffett was a young attorney working for the Salt Lake legal Defender’s office. He and his colleagues were assigned to the case by a judge, as George didn’t have the money to hire his own attorney. And right from the start, Marc felt the odds are stacked against them.

Marcela Howell  04:39

I just remember when that homicide occurred when the shooting occurred. It shook the community. You know, we had two young kids that were up there doing an innocent thing in a place in the mountains. Where everybody in the community went from time to time everybody goes up in the mountains to hike or get away. And there was just something about that case that freaked the community out.

Amy Donaldson  05:13

Add to that, the evidence against their client was overwhelming.

Marcela Howell  05:18

George had made statements to the police and culpa Tory statements, that truck that was found at the scene, I think was registered to him or was tied to him in some way. I mean, there wasn’t much question about guilt or innocence.

Amy Donaldson  05:32

Marc Felt like it might be difficult for a jury made up of typical Utahns to relate to the struggles of an immigrant from Paraguay. Salt Lake City is about 70% White, and the surrounding county, even more so.

Marcela Howell  05:46

We were worried about community based bias against this kid. I mean, he was a brown skinned kid with a strange last name Benvenuto.

Amy Donaldson  05:55

And remember, this is a crime that happened in the 90s. A decade distinguished by tough on crime sentiment that spared almost no one from minimum sentences for sex offenders to added penalties for gun crimes, to sending minors straight into the adult court. The focus was on punishment and protection.

Marcela Howell  06:17

You know, you have to think back when our community as of that point in time, had already imposed me Salt Lake, jurors had imposed death sentences against other people.

Amy Donaldson  06:29

In Utah in the 90s, seven men received death sentences. And in that same timeframe, the state executed three people. That might not seem like a lot compared to states like Florida or Texas, but it’s the most in Utah in a single decade. Since the 1950s. There were a lot of reasons for Mark to think his client might get the death penalty. But the fact that George was only 19 years old when he pulled the trigger, just a month older than Zachary. Mark thought that might be a mitigating factor.

Marcela Howell  07:02

You know, one of the things that we thought was an issue. Positive for us is was George’s age, but given everything else that was going on with who he was and what he had done. We just felt that there was going to be a death sentence.

Amy Donaldson  07:25

George Benvenuto’s first court appearance was an arraignment on September 4, 1996, exactly a week after the shooting. This was a brief appearance where he was assigned attorneys. And bail was set at a million dollars. But it would have been the first opportunity for the Snarr and Rodier families to see him in person. Zachary Snarr’s sister Sydney remembers the first time she saw her brother’s killer.

Sydney  07:55

Our side of the courtroom was just standing room only. And I remember looking over and seeing his mom and his siblings sitting there. And that was it for him. And I remember just thinking good. George walked into the courtroom, and he was pale. And he had his jumper on the orange jumper and he was handcuffed and they had a chain down to his ankles. So he was shackled. He had a goatee and it was all pointy, and he was so pale. And his hair was just black and his goatee was black and he wouldn’t look at us. And I remember just thinking  he looks like Satan to me.

Amy Donaldson  08:37

While Sydney saw the devil in George, Yvette Rodier’s sister, Danielle, saw something very different. 

Danielle  08:44

This kid walks through the door and I was like, oh, that’s what a killer looks like. I mean, I was surprised that he didn’t look like the boogey man because he was he was evil in my mind. And to see that he looked just like a regular person. I didn’t really know how to compartmentalize that I didn’t know where to put that. 

Amy Donaldson  09:11

For Yvette, every court hearing was difficult, because she had to be in the same room with the man who tried to kill her.

Yvette Rodier  09:19

They were so hard. At one hearing, I didn’t know he was going to be there. So I hadn’t mentally prepared and they called the case and he walked in, and I sobbed more than I’ve saw in public ever in my whole life like embarrassingly sobbing, like the judge had to stop for a minute until I could get myself together. He has remained terrifying to me. I know I’m safe in the courtroom. And he doesn’t look at me or anything like that, but it just, he terrifies me.

Amy Donaldson  10:00

George made 15 court appearances between September 4, 1996 and January 30, 1998. And Mark remembers that every single one was emotionally charged.

Marcela Howell  10:12

All I remember is walking into that courtroom and it was packed. And it was packed with family members of Zach Snarr and Yvette Rodier. And you could cut the emotion with a knife it was, these people hated George. And you can’t blame them, but they hated him and they were angry.

Amy Donaldson  10:39

The Snarr’s grief over losing Zach had hardened into hatred for the man who killed him.

Ron Snarr  10:45

I was gonna jump him in the courtroom and try to kill him myself my bare hand.

Amy Donaldson  10:50

Zach’s father, Ron, said he was consumed the thoughts of revenge.

Ron Snarr  10:54

I could be on the firing squad. I’d do it myself. […]

Amy Donaldson  11:02

Ron couldn’t confront George. But he could make sure the rest of his family understood the pain George had inflicted on them.

Ron Snarr  11:10

I blamed […]. You know, they’d show up […] kids being their first day and I’m thinking to myself, how could you raise such a monster? They go and just go start shooting people? Does anyone know him? You know, how do you process that? And so I was blaming them. They’re the only ones in the room, I could get out because I couldn’t get to him.

Amy Donaldson  11:39

After one of those court appearances, Ron slid into the bench behind George’s mother and told her exactly how he felt.

Ron Snarr  11:46

Now, here she is just beside herself. I can understand the grief she was in in that now. But at the time, I thought she was the cause. You know, how can you write such a monster? What would you do wrong? You know, letting her have it telling her those things.

Amy Donaldson  12:10

His hatred extended to anyone associated with George, including the defense team.

Ron Snarr  12:16

I thought how could they sit there and try to defend this guy and get him off, and I didn’t have any respect for Marc Moffett or any of them sitting on anybody on that side of the room was some of the lowest human beings on earth.

Amy Donaldson  12:32

Ron wasn’t the only one thinking about how to hurt the man who taken Zach’s life.

Sydney  12:38

I used to fantasize about what I would do for the opportunity to be in a room with him alone with a baseball bat

Amy Donaldson  12:50

In the month since her brother was gunned down. Sydney’s pain had turned to rage.

Sydney  12:55

I did, I spent so much time just wishing the worst on him. And I hope he’s, you know, suffering. I hope he’s I hope he gets killed in prison. I wish they would have just shot him when they arrested him. Why didn’t they just kill him. You know, you hear the stages of grief. This is in my we’ll call this my anger phase. But I wanted him to suffer.

Amy Donaldson  13:24

On February 5 1997, a preliminary hearing was held in Salt Lake County’s Third District Court. This was the hearing that would determine whether or not there was enough evidence for prosecutors to pursue the death penalty at trial. In this type of hearing, prosecutors tried to provide key evidence against the defendant. But it was never the entirety of the case. The goal was simply to convince a judge that there was enough evidence to bind a defendant over for trial. In this hearing, only Yvette who’d survived the shooting. And Keith Stevens, the lead detective, as well as a medical examiner would testify. During the preliminary hearing, George sat in silence next to his lawyers, while Yvette detailed what happened the night of the shooting. Even the formality of court with armed bailiffs nearby didn’t make her feel safe.

Yvette Rodier  14:15

It was scary. I had to point him out. And my finger just shook as I was pointing him out.

Amy Donaldson  14:25

Yvette and Tony Sullivan watched her testify feeling immense pride for her nieces courage. She sat with Yvette’s mother, Linda, amazed at what the young woman was able to do under such difficult circumstances.

Speaker 4  14:40

I was in awe at her ability to communicate the important details. She was more composed and you would guess that she could be and that it was because at that point, I think she’d reached the standpoint of the truth needs to be told. And I’m gonna tell it and she became emotional a few times, but she never broke down. I mean, honestly, I felt and I know that Linda did because we talked about it but like the pride of other mom saying, I don’t know how my kids doing this, but she is.

Marc Moffett  15:17

I remember it being very powerful.

Amy Donaldson  15:22

Yvette’s testimony just made Georgia’s defense attorney Mark Moffat even more apprehensive about the prospect of saving George’s life.

Marc Moffett  15:31

Her experience in that case, it was, there’s nothing we could do as a defense lawyers to undermine it. There’s just been nothing. My memory is that we did that preliminary hearing that we saw these people testify, we saw Yvette testify. We knew what the evidence was against our client. We were as convinced as ever that George faced a very real possibility of a death sentence. As the case progressed, the criminal justice process was taking a toll on everyone involved.

Roger Blaylock  19:17

It’s really heavily emotional because what it does is it brings back to victims. Exactly what happened.

Amy Donaldson  19:29

Prosecutor Roger Blaylock says court forces people to reckon with loss in a uniquely painful way.

Roger Blaylock  19:35

That sense of loss becomes apparent to everybody it’s in the courtroom, you know the family and everybody else. Oh, and imagine even the defendants family feel some sense of it because they can’t fathom that their son or their brother would do something that bad.

Amy Donaldson  20:00

Anyone who cared about the three families involved felt deep pain in these court appearances.

Tony  20:05

I remember coming home every time and I get we’d get in the car to leave after those sessions and the things that led up to it. And I cried every single time.

Amy Donaldson  20:15

Yvette’s aunt, Tony, witnessed struggles in the courtroom. And in her life.

Tony  20:20

I remember many times, just praying that she’d be able to handle it that it was like they’re asking so much of her. And I can’t imagine enjoying what she’s been through. I just can’t even imagine it. She was waking up with nightmares on a regular basis, her of survival guilt got worse and worse, the more shoot start going through this, I want to tell the story because I want to make sure I want him to have to pay I want the shooter to pay. But because of that she’s reliving these experiences. I mean, she has to tell the story over and over and over again. And that became very difficult for her.

Amy Donaldson  20:53

Yvette was determined to do what was asked, she was determined to get justice for Zach. But her mother was worried about her.

Yvette Rodier  21:00

She was definitely a mama bear. And she was really frustrated. During the court process. She felt like I was neglected in the process. And I didn’t per se but I was also 1819 and didn’t really have any expectation. And so she just was very protective about me and wanted to be sure that everyone remembered me too. And I kind of didn’t want to be remembered. But she wanted to just be sure everything that they could do for me they were doing.

Amy Donaldson  21:34

Meanwhile, Zach’s mother realized she was not prepared to hear some of the details that would be shared in court proceedings.

Sy Snarr  21:42

The day the medical examiner testified; I think was the worst day of my life. Because she did show I show a drawing of Zach in talked about where he shot him. And after he had shot him twice, he actually held the gun point blank to his head. And I had not known that. And that really affected me. It did. And I had driven myself down there and I literally had to pull over I could not drive home, because I was wailing, sobbing, it really. It just killed me that that had happened to that beautiful boy of mine, you know that his life ended that way. It was hard.

Amy Donaldson  22:39

The agony of reliving that night in court hearings began to make sigh have doubts about whether or not she could go through with a trial. 

Sy Snarr  22:46

At first, you know, I thought no, we need to go to trial because he needs to die.

Amy Donaldson  22:51

But then so I was watching news coverage of a murderer at a video store on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley,

Sy Snarr  22:57

When they were showing drawings of this person’s body showing where she had been stabbed over and over and I thought I cannot watch this on TV about Zach, I can’t do it.

Amy Donaldson  23:12

Death is the only semblance of justice to those left in the wake of the shooting. But the emotional price they’d have to pay to send George Benvenuto to his grave began to feel too high for some. That’s when prosecutors proposed an alternative, one that would allow the families to move on without reliving every single excruciating detail of that horrific night. George could plead guilty, so there would be no trial, his life would be spared. But instead of a firing squad or a lethal dose of poison, the 19 year old would never ever leave the prison. Prosecutor Roger Blaylock says discussing plea deals with those devastated by violence is a delicate balancing act.

Roger Blaylock  23:58

Well, what you have to do is you have to be very honest with people who’ve lost loved ones like that. And we said look, okay, if we go to trial, and if there’s a guilty verdict, and if they impose the death penalty, that’s another 20 years before there’s any kind of real resolution on this. Because that’s just kind of the way it is there going to be appeals and appeals and appeals and appeals.

Amy Donaldson  24:26

A plea promise to eliminate years of court battles.

Roger Blaylock  24:30

Do you feel like justice is served? If he pleads guilty? And we say okay, we’re not going to request the death penalty. It’ll be life without parole. Is that something that you feel like meets what you want in the way of justice? Does that kind of balance things out? Nothing really could balance it out. But does that give you a feeling that what needed to be accomplished has been accomplished?

Tony  25:00

We didn’t know if that was even fair.

Amy Donaldson  25:03

Tony says their family really struggled with the idea of a plea deal.

Tony  25:08

Having to take a plea deal and that he’s gonna end up with in a position where he’s gonna be able to still live and stuff. But Zach doesn’t get to live. And Yvette doesn’t get to live normally again?

Amy Donaldson  25:18

It was especially difficult for events mother, Linda to accept.

Tony  25:22

She said, I really want him to pay. And I’m right now I’m having a really hard time because I don’t know that this is enough payment, it will never make anything right. She said, I want restitution. But restitution will never be paid. There’s no way you can pay restitution for this.

Amy Donaldson  25:41

If that family had to ask themselves what they really wanted. They consider the risks of going to trial. They listened to the prosecutors reasoning.

Tony  25:50

He said, The biggest reason that I encourage you to do this is because if one thing goes wrong in the courtroom, and some isn’t handled in the way that we want it to, and he could walk away, and things that are out of our control that they could twist them or they’re going to not allow some piece of evidence or something like that. And he said, we have a solid case we know we have a confession. If anything goes wrong, you could lose this altogether.

Amy Donaldson  26:22

As for Yvette, she didn’t think it was her decision to make.

Yvette Rodier  26:27

I don’t recall thinking about it at that time. I definitely knew I was afraid of him. And so if there was something that would keep him away from me, I was all for it. But I don’t think I ever wished death upon him.

Amy Donaldson  26:46

Even though plea deal didn’t seem like the justice they were looking for. Tony says they focused on what a vet wanted, that the man who killed her friend and intended to kill her never be allowed to hurt anybody again. Like Yvette’s family. The Snarr’s had mixed feelings about a plea deal.

Sydney  27:07

I was at first upset.

Amy Donaldson  27:12

Sydney felt like they owed Zach more of a fight.

Sydney  27:16

Like what are we doing? Are we are we not fighting hard enough? Like why would we accept the plea I want him to fry.

Amy Donaldson  27:24

But then she was watching a news report about a death penalty case in another state.

Sydney  27:29

And they were talking about the prisoner who was going to be executed. Do you know there are people out there protesting his death and holding up signs saying you know He’s God’s child. And he you know, show mercy and he’s a born again, Christian, he you know, and people were crying over his fate. And I remember just thinking, they have not mentioned the victim once, or the victims’ families, or loved ones or you know, who’s representing the victim here. It’s all about this really bad guy.

Amy Donaldson  28:05

Sydney began to think that if her brother’s killer went to prison, people would just forget about him.

Sydney  28:11

He’s going to fade into nothing, which is what he deserves, you know, and I remember just thinking that like, well, at least 20 years from now, we won’t be hearing about what a great guy he is.

Sy Snarr  28:28

Well, three of us wanted to accept the plea bargain, and two did not.

Amy Donaldson  28:32

Zach’s mother sigh along with Sydney and his youngest brother Levi, wanting to accept the plea deal. They wanted it to be over. They want to George behind bars for the rest of his life.

Sy Snarr  28:45

Ron and our oldest son said no, he, we need to go to trial.

Amy Donaldson  28:51

In an effort to help them make the decision, prosecutors arranged for them to visit the Utah State Prison.

Sy Snarr  28:59

And we met the assistant warden and he took us through that entire prison. And my husband and my son said, I’d rather be dead than be here.

Amy Donaldson  29:12

I understand this feeling. I covered corrections for six years, and I’ve spent time in most of Utah’s prison facilities. Life in the maximum security units is bleak. It was during that time that I first met attorney Bob Steele, who is part of George Benvenuto, his defense team. He spent his 40 year career working with death row and maximum security inmates. I remember the first time I did a tour, and I thought I think I would rather die than live my whole life here. So I can’t think of anything less hopeful.

Bob Steele  29:48

No, and it’s kind of this is a horrible way to say it. It feels a little bit like going in the zoo. In one of those places where they’re hosing the poop off For the floor and then there’s people yelling, it’s the noisiest place you can imagine. It’s all concrete and metal. And you put on top of that gang interactions. There’s always the threat of a stabbing. There’s always the threat of death. When you live in a punishment regime, there is an alternative, governing body. And that’s the inmates and the inmates are in charge of a lot of the behavior that goes on in the guards. I mean, they what can you do you keep punishing, I mean, you can’t modify the behavior in any meaningful way.

Amy Donaldson  30:37

Inmates in maximum security lived in rooms the size of walk in closets. At the time, inmates were not allowed to work or exercise in the way other inmates could. I remember having a conversation with a death row inmate on a visit in 1996. He told me he didn’t want to die. But he was considering dropping his appeals and accepting his fate. I asked him what would make him quit fighting for his life. Living in maximum security, he told me was inhumane. It was devoid of ordinary pleasures, like enjoying fresh air, walking in the grass, or eating with other people. There were no normal human interactions, like handshakes or hugs. And it gave them nothing to look forward to. Nothing to motivate them to be better people. There was, as he put it, no hope. Seeing the realities of life in prison, help Ron come around to the idea of a plea deal.

Ron Snarr  31:43

You’re something worse than death, and that’s living in prison the rest of your life with your cell buddy.

Amy Donaldson  31:48

Sydney was out of state at the time, so she didn’t see the prison for herself. But she talked to her family afterward.

Sydney  31:54

My older brother Trent said that it gave him nightmares. And I remember him telling me that I think I would rather die than live the rest of my life in that hellhole. And at that point, I was like, well, they’re good. Do it. Let’s forget about him. He can go in there and rot.

Amy Donaldson  32:31

Coming up after the break, the sentencing of George Benvenuto.  The family’s decided to accept the plea deal in return for the assurance that George Benvenuto would be locked away for the rest of his life. Marc remembers taking the offer to his client. He felt the plea deal was the only way to save George’s life.

Marc Moffett  34:42

So I’ve got a basically a 19 or maybe he was 20 then barely 20 When we were sort of made that offer so I had a very young person asking me questions like, what’s the difference for me between death and spending every day for the rest of my life in prison. How was that good for me? And those were incredibly difficult questions to answer. And George, at that time was vacillating. He still had suicidal ideation going on. So he was hoping that the state would put him to death.

Marc Moffett  35:07

And your, as a defense lawyer sort of hard wired to avoiding the death penalty in a case like this where you’re almost certain he would get it if you put it in front of a jury. Anything else is a victory. So you kind of measure it differently than you might In any other case.

Marc Moffett  35:32

Absolutely. So when we sat down and talk with George impositions, a death penalty, was such a viable..

Amy Donaldson  35:42

It was a real threat. Yeah. So you’re saying this is a real option, but he’s suicidal. So that might not be a deterrent? And that might not be persuading?

Marc Moffett  35:51

No. And when you do death penalty work, there are people that you come to know as we call them, volunteers, who basically say, I’m not going to fight I’m not you know, in George was certain days of volunteer other days, not I mean, he vacillated and it made these discussions really hard. And they continued right up until the moments before the plea.

Amy Donaldson  36:18

On October 5, 1997, George was scheduled to enter a guilty plea. He shared his uncertainty with his attorneys, even as they prepare to stand before the judge.

Marc Moffett  36:29

Even up until the moments before he was to go in and enter his plea, he still had reservations about it.

Amy Donaldson  36:42

Shortly after George entered his guilty plea, the Benvenuto was fired the public defense team and hired a private attorney Robert Booker. Mark was given no explanation. But the move signaled a change in legal strategy. The defense team that had fought so hard to save George’s life ended up watching the sentencing from the gallery. The hearing was essentially formality. Because of the plea agreement, the outcome was not a mystery. Everyone knew going into it, that George Benvenuto would be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Still, this hearing in January of 1998, 17 months after the shooting, was the first time that victims would speak in court about how it had changed their lives. Before they spoke, the judge asked Mr. Booker if George Benvenuto would like to speak. Mr. Booker said his client had chosen not to make a statement, but that he would make a few comments on his behalf. This is a very difficult case, Booker said, quote, it’s a case that certainly offers far more questions than answers to anyone. I do feel confident that Mr. Benvenuto is very, very, very much regrets whatever it is that went wrong on that night, end quote. one after another, those left in the ruins of the shooting, tried to put their pain into words. Your Honor, Zach’s father Ron said. We struggled with the idea of making a plea bargain. We felt we were the only ones doing everything possible to make sure there was justice for Zachary. We didn’t want to let him down. The irony is that Zachary would have been the first one to forgive. Zach’s mother’s side told the judge, I need to know that the murderer will never walk free. He made a terrible choice. Now he must pay the consequences for that choice. We need some closure. Our family needs to get on with our lives. Yvette needs to get on with her life. But we cannot do that until we know that we and everyone else are safe. Yvette’s mother Linda also shared her feelings with the court. She said quote, I think it is important for the court to know and that everyone here know that on August 28th, 1996. Mr. Benvenuto killed two people. We miss a part of Yvette that will never be here. There is a part of her that is dead and I don’t know that it will ever be returned to us. Yvette also stood in the courtroom to speak that day. Until this moment, her words were meant to detail the facts of a crime. Everything she’d offered was in response to the questions from detectives or prosecutors. But this statement, written by a 19 year old Yvette and then read in court is the most complete account of how this traumatic experience changed her life. It is the only record of how she felt in those months after surviving a shooting that robbed her friend of his life. For that reason, the court transcript is read here by an actor.

Yvette Rodier  40:08

On August 28 1996. The word that describes that night the most is alone. I was with my dearest closest friend, and he was murdered right next to me. It’s hard to describe the feelings that go through your mind when you know that someone that you love dearly is laying dead besides you. I was shocked many times; I don’t know how many. I’ve got the scars to prove it. But I was alone that night, after a person who just murdered my friend rummaged through my clothing, and I can feel his hands on my body. I was alone. I guess you really don’t know what happens until after. But I remember it all. There is nothing that I have forgotten. And I don’t know if I ever will forget. Since that night, my body has basically been ripped apart again. I have had five operations. One more to come. Most of them all my head, opening my head, taking pieces out putting them back in. Right now I have a hole in my head. How do I explain that to someone? I tried to cover it up. But I know it’s there. I know I’ve got to hold my head because someone shot me. The pain that I’ve incurred because of these operations is amazing. They give me shots as soon as they can only to push the pain away for 10 or 15 minutes, then I have to wait another three or four hours to get another one. It’s horrible. It’s happened five times now. And I know I have to go at least once again. Each time I have an operation, my head swells to the size of a watermelon. It’s painful. And I lose most of my hair, which for a 19 year old. That’s hard. I know what seems vain. But I guess it’s the little things that hurt us almost the most. Those are just physical things. Who cares really. I can handle those. It’s the psychological pain that I think has hurt the most. And I know what depression is. I know because I suffered it many days. I think a lot of it has come from survivor’s guilt. I know that’s a clinical term, but I feel guilty that Zach died. And I don’t know if the person who has done this does. I should hope so. But I didn’t try CPR. I know CPR. Why didn’t I do it. I didn’t try to hold his wound or hold him tight. I can remember his family’s phone number in the operating room, and then call that number almost every day and I couldn’t remember it. I hate dealing with that guilt. It’s so unfair. I hate that feeling. And a lot of my psychological pain is fear. I’m afraid to cross the street. I’m afraid someone is attacking me. I’m afraid someone is stalking me. I’m afraid of nighttime. I’m afraid of gunshots on the television. My whole family’s had to alter their life so I wouldn’t have to be alone by myself. I’m too afraid of my fears. I don’t sleep. I have horrible nightmares that I die or that people I love die. I think part of a lot of the psychological stuff is that I know that when he stopped that shooting and reloaded that he was aiming right at me and that it was me wanted to kill. And that’s a horrible pain that I hope nobody would ever have to have again. Zack and I are not the only victims here. Our families and friends. Our communities are too. It’s not just us we need to have justice for it’s for all of us around us. It just I know that I have a family who loves me and protects me and takes care of me. And I’m thankful for that because I don’t think I would be strong enough to stand today and say how much this has hurt me. But out of all of this, I can deal with it. I’m alive. I can wake up tomorrow. I’m lucky. But Zach never will. And I have lost a dear, dear friend, and that is what’s so unfair to me. I lost someone who remembered my birthday and who loved me and looked out for me. That’s what is the most unfair in this case. I appreciate the sentence that’s being made today to serve justice for our families and friends. Thank you for your time.

Amy Donaldson  45:15

Judge Anne Stirba who died in 2001 explained that she had read the letters provided by the families. She had reviewed the case and given it a great deal of thought. Then she addressed George Benvenuto directly. She said, I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child. You will never know what it is like to have a child or lose a child. Mr. Benvenuto I don’t think you will ever know the pain, the full extent the full measure of pain, which you have caused. Judge Stirba said she was struck by all the letters she received from people who said Zachary Snarr was their best friend. The judge expressed off awe for Yvette, quote, what Yvette is today, she is because of her own incredible courage and her strength and her will to heal. Despite what you took from her. She sent his George Benvenuto to spend the rest of his natural life in the Utah State Prison. Parole would never be a possibility. Judge Stirba took the extraordinary step of saying that she would write a letter to the Board of Pardons and parole, recommending that he never leave prison.

Yvette Rodier  46:32

I felt so safe when he got life in prison without parole

Amy Donaldson  46:38

For Yvette, Judge Stirba words were exactly what she needed to hear.

Yvette Rodier  46:42

it to me just made the world a safe place for me again. And I wasn’t afraid necessarily he was getting out but to have the judge say that it definitely felt so good.

Amy Donaldson  46:57

Yvette says she will always remember the way Judge Stirba made her feel.

Yvette Rodier  47:01

Because you feel like the defendant is the only one who is being protected as being heard throughout the process. And while that may not be true, your voice it feels like your voice is not part of this process. And so just to be able to talk and have a judge listen is so validating.

Amy Donaldson  47:27

TV cameras captured the moment the snares emerge from the courtroom that day.

Ron Snarr  47:31

I hope like the judge says he’ll never walk out of the state prison. He can go out there and sit in the hole and rock the rest of his life. As far as I’m concerned.

Sy Snarr  47:40

Sy  was relieved because she thought it would be the last time she’d ever have to face George Benvenuto.

Sy Snarr  48:08

I thought I won’t have to even think about him or you know, I’ll never have to see him. I’ll never have to hear his name again.

Amy Donaldson  48:21

Did you feel like okay, it’s over?

Sy Snarr  48:23

Oh, I did. I was so naive.

Amy Donaldson  48:35

Next time on the letter, the Snarr’s realize what rage has done to their lives.

Sy Snarr  48:41

When you have that much hatred and anger in you, you become that you are angry and hateful. I didn’t like it, but didn’t like what I’d become.

Amy Donaldson  49:31

THE LETTER is researched and reported by me, Amy Donaldson. It’s written by myself and Andrea Smardon, who is also responsible for Production and Sound Design. Mixing by Trent Sell. Special thanks to Nina Earnest, Becky Bruce, KellieAnn Halvorsen, Ryan Meeks, Ben Kuebrich, Josh Tilton and Dave Cawley. Main musical score composed by Allison Leyton Brown with KSL Podcasts Executive Producer Sheryl Worsley. For Lemonada Media, Executive Producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs And Executive Producers Paul Anderson and Nick Panella with WorkHouse Media. If you’d like our show, please give us a rating and review. It helps people find us follow us at the letterpodcast.com and on social at @theletterpodcast. The letter is produced by KSL podcasts and Lemonada Media in association with Workhouse Media.

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