Meeting the Monster
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When Jorge Benvenuto sat down to write a letter to the family of the boy he’d shot to death as a teenager, he had no idea the chain of events that would follow. When he penned his apology alone in a prison cell, he never imagined that it would lead to him hugging the mother of that young man. Nor did he have any inkling about the many ways the letter would reverberate through his own life – and the lives of his family members. The Letter opened a pathway for the parents of Zachary Snarr to push for his release.
The Letter team will follow and update with new episodes as developments happen.
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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.
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Sy Snarr, Marc Moffett, Drew, Ron Snarr, Amy Donaldson, 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 01:33
It was February 18. I remember the day I went and visited him. We’d been riding back and forth for, for over a year. But I was still thinking I’m actually going to see him I’m going to be face to face with him. I was just trying to do some like this deep breathing. You know, because I was nervous.
Amy Donaldson 01:56
And February 2020. The world was not yet familiar with the phrase social distancing, when Sy Snarr made a visit to the central Utah Correctional Facility in rural Utah.
Sy Snarr 02:09
I looked out there and I said that’s him because I hadn’t seen him since he was 19 years old. And I wouldn’t have known him. If I had a meeting face to face on the street I wouldn’t have recognized him.
Amy Donaldson 02:19
When George Benvenuto sat down to write a letter to the family the boy had shot to death as a teenager, he had no idea the chain of events that would follow when he penned his apology, alone in a prison cell. He couldn’t even imagine that it would lead to him hugging the mother of the young men. Nor did he have any inkling about the many ways the letter would reverberate through his own life and the lives of his family. From KSL podcasts, I’m Amy Donaldson. And this is The Letter, Episode 8, Meeting The Monster. Sy sits on her sofa in a sea of letters rifling through the pile in a panic. She cannot find the one she cherishes most. The original letter from George. It’s that letter that started at all.
Sy Snarr 03:57
When we got that first letter, I said I’m going to write back.
Amy Donaldson 04:02
So I was driving in the car with her close friend Drew Wigglin Clark, when she felt compelled to put her thoughts on paper.
And she said, okay, here goes I’m gonna write a letter to George.
Amy Donaldson 04:16
Put her hands on the wheel. So I dictated the words you wanted to send to George.
I was on a scratch piece of paper hurriedly writing it because it just came flowing out.
Amy Donaldson 04:31
How did you feel? Listening to her response? What did you think of her response?
I was astounded amazed. The forgiveness, the love.
Amy Donaldson 04:43
Sy didn’t take many words to convey what she really wanted George to know.
Sy Snarr 04:48
It was not even full page but I just told him how much I appreciated his letter. And I told him that like him I had gone through a change to towards my future. things and I said, you know, I want you to know that I have forgiven you. And I know that Zach has forgiven you 100%
The part I remember most is I know; Zach has forgiven you. And he’ll be the first to embrace you.
Amy Donaldson 05:20
About two weeks later, Sy and Ron received another letter, this one from George’s mother, Alita.
Sy Snarr 05:27
She was kind of like taking responsibility. I wished I would have seen the warning signs and all this and just this really sweet, sweet apology letter. And that’s when I told her I’m going to write back to her. Because I’ve always just felt for his mother. I did. I just thought, how is she coping with this?
Amy Donaldson 05:48
Unlike his wife, Ron had never felt that kinship with George’s mother. In fact, he never felt anything but hate and resentment for anyone connected to George. In reading the latest Alita’s, he was overcome with remorse.
Ron Snarr 06:03
I wrote a letter to her and basically said, I’m sorry.
Amy Donaldson 06:07
What you were most sorry about when it came to Alita?
Ron Snarr 06:11
What I treated her and what I told her what I said to her, it’s got to be so hurtful when she give birth to a monster, and all is just awful. I said, here, I’m gonna write a little letter to her too. And I said, I am so sorry, for the way I treated you and your family. And will you please forgive me?
Amy Donaldson 06:33
Sy, took Ron’s letter and put it in an envelope with a letter that she’d written. Thus began an exchange of letters between Sy, Alita, and George.
Sy Snarr 06:45
This is one that he had sent to his mother for some reason […] her to forward to me, there. So I wanted you to know that the letter and messages that you have sent me since January have been very difficult for me to read. It is not what I expected. It was somehow easier for me in the past, when you and your family were angry at me and hated me. I understood that reaction. But the change of heart that you and your family have had, and the forgiveness that you’ve expressed towards me have left me feeling humbled, undeserving of it, and without words to respond to you. I feel that I owe you and your family so much. I wish there was something I could do. I thought that was really sweet, too. It’s like he, I think he felt very undeserving of the forgiveness. And he’s been very humbled by it.
Amy Donaldson 07:38
The correspondence continued, in line by line, they learned about each other’s lives. With every shared story, the trust between them grew.
Sy Snarr 07:47
I had written him a letter, telling him about Levi dying. I had never said anything about him dying. And then I just thought, you know, I’m just gonna be honest with what my life is. So I had told him about Levi’s cancer. And he said, I want to thank you for writing me that beautiful, very personal letter, I must admit that it was not easy for me to read. I kept feeling that I didn’t have the right to have a glimpse into your life as well as your family’s life, especially when you wrote about Levi, his illness. And now he and Zack were close to each other. I reread that portion of your letter over and over again, feeling sad and ashamed. I thought to myself, I’m responsible for a lot of the loss and suffering that this mother and her family have endured during their lives. I thought that was very sweet. What he said.
Amy Donaldson 08:39
The handwritten letters between Sy and George opened up on anticipated possibilities.
Sy Snarr 08:44
It did, it opened a huge door of just a flood of just wonderfulness and happiness and blessings to me. Joy, I really care about him. I do. It’s really hard for him to grasp that he’s truly, you know, forgiven by us and, and he has said in a letter to me that he says I understand why Yvette hates me. She has every right you know; he knows what he did. But he’s very grateful for what’s happened between us and our relationship. He says he really looks forward to my letters and I look forward to his when I’m gone off so I did I get a letter. Because I really liked getting his letters there. Some of them make me sad, just you know, sad. I just I so want him to have another chance. I just believe in second chances. I think everybody deserves a second chance.
Amy Donaldson 09:45
The exchanges began to create a ripple effect. And one of those ripples found me. Early in 2019. I learned about the letter from a friend of mine. His aunt, as it turned out, is Leanne Bell whom you met in Episode 7. She’s the woman who took the leader to church just a few days after the shooting. And then 20 years later delivered the letter from George to Sy Snarr. Sy and Leanne agreed to meet me for lunch and over sandwiches. They told me about the letter, and it’s already widening impact. We talked about the possibility of sharing the story with the world in May of 2019, just a few months after receiving Georgia’s apology letter, so I sat down for an interview with me. But a couple of weeks later, she called and said she and Ron didn’t want to participate in a podcast. They worried that subjecting this unique relationship to scrutiny from strangers might contaminate it. They worried about causing issues for George and compromising the peace and joy they’d found in this new relationship. Throughout the first year of reporting the story, I wasn’t sure there might even be a story to tell. Still, I felt compelled to reach out to George’s former attorneys. So a few months after that lunch date, I called Mark Moffett, one of the defense attorneys who first represented George back in 1996. When I told him about the letter George had written, it was almost as if he couldn’t comprehend what I was telling him.
Marc Moffett 11:20
I was really surprised. I couldn’t believe it. I just never thought George would ever get to a place like that.
Amy Donaldson 11:28
Mark thought about how close the off George had been when he represented him all those years ago. And then when Sy tried to meet with George, he declined, given all that had happened. Mark never expected George would write a letter of apology.
Marc Moffett 11:43
So when he finally did it, and did it on his own, it’s not like, you know, nobody’s telling him to do this. I was really surprised. And then what was maybe more surprising to me was, Sy’s reaction to it. And Ron’s reaction and the family’s reaction to the letter. Because my whole experience with the Snarr family was that they were very, very angry. And unforgiving of what George had done to their son. They hated him for it. They hated me and James and the defense team for what we did.
Amy Donaldson 12:33
A few weeks after I talked with Mark, he called and asked if I thought Sy might be willing to help him in a decade’s long fight to abolish the death penalty in Utah. I gave him her number.
Marc Moffett 12:47
I reached out to Sy, and you know, wanted to see if she would be interested. You know, what, how does she feel about the death penalty? And what were her thoughts about maybe becoming involved and as part of some effort to maybe abolish the death penalty.
Amy Donaldson 13:03
Sy said she was interested. So they set up a meeting a few days later to talk about it in person. On a snowy day in December 2019. Mark and his colleague Marina Lowe from the American Civil Liberties Union, stepped onto the Snarr port and rang the bell.
Marc Moffett 13:20
The meeting was in their living room, there’s pictures of Zach and their other family members there.
Amy Donaldson 13:29
Marc came to the snores home thinking he might convince them to help abolish the death penalty in Utah. But the meeting took a turn he did not expect.
Marc Moffett 13:38
I’m hearing from Sy. And I’m hearing from Ron about how this letter that George Benvenuto wrote to them, changed their lives. And it changed their perspective of him. It changed how they felt about what had happened about the death penalty.
Amy Donaldson 14:01
It would take some time for them to find out where this conversation would lead. But it was the first step on a path none of them could have ever anticipated. As they said their goodbyes, Ron had another apology. He felt he needed to deliver. He wrapped Marc in a hug.
Ron Snarr 14:21
I said Marc, you did a hell of a job. You did a great job. I’m so sorry. The way I treated you, what I said to you, whatever else. I’m truly sorry and Please forgive me and He gave me a big he said I never thought I’d see this day […].
Amy Donaldson 14:42
Something momentous had occurred in that house. And Mark wasn’t quite sure what it all meant.
Marc Moffett 14:48
to be part of that. It was emotional for me. I mean, it kind of took a lot out of me. But I’m walking out with Ron and we’re talking and then he gives me a hug and I was just blown away; I couldn’t go back to work. And as I remember going up to my house, it was cold outside, it was snowing. I went on a snowshoe walk with my dogs just because I was about all I could do at the time. It’s one of the most profound experiences that I’ve had as a lawyer. It’s emotional for me.
Amy Donaldson 15:42
Almost a year had passed since that first letter reached the Snarr’s, and Georgian side continued to write. Their friendship still felt fragile. But her affection for him was something she was now willing to share in certain circumstances. So I gave a talk in her church about forgiveness and how it had changed her life. Her son Trent called her afterwards to see how it went.
Sy Snarr 16:03
I said it was hard. I guess it went alright. And I told him that my friend and record he said, Well, I’d like to hear it. And I said, okay, but you’re gonna be surprised at a couple of things I say in it. So I emailed it to him. And he said, Mom, I’m really proud of you. He said I’m really proud of you. And I’m so happy for you and dad.
Amy Donaldson 16:25
In the talk, said she was planning to go to the prison to meet George face to face.
Sy Snarr 16:30
And I had also in my talk, said how I you know, I’d always signed my letters sincerely. Sy, sincerely, and then one day I just thought, I’m just gonna do it. So I signed it, love, Sy and the next one from him said sincerely that the one after that he actually signed up so we always sign our letters love and, I said to turn I said, well, did it surprise you that I’m going to the prison? He says, No, that doesn’t surprise me. He says that you know, I can forgive him and everything but I don’t know that I’d ever signed my letter love Trent because he still that […] killed my brother. And I just as yeah, he is. He is the one that killed your brother.
Amy Donaldson 17:12
Sy I was ready to meet George in person. But Ron wasn’t quite there yet.
Sy Snarr 17:17
He was nervous. And he said, tell me how it went.
Amy Donaldson 17:21
The only issue she had no idea how to go about arranging a visit, but Mark Moffett had connections, and he helped her arrange a meeting. So I didn’t want to go alone. So she asked her friend Drew, the one who helped to write that first letter to George to accompany her. On a cold day in February 2020. They made the 45 minute drive from the snarf second home in Mount Pleasant to the central Utah correctional facility in the rural community of Gunnison.
Sy Snarr 17:51
It was a frigid morning. And as we were driving in these two beautiful bald eagles were circling in the air and I said Sy, it’s Zach and Levi. Sy was incredibly anxious.
Amy Donaldson 18:54
I admit I was like, a little nervous because even though we had been writing, I hadn’t talked to him on the phone or anything. But since we we’d been riding back and forth for over a year, just over a year. But I was still thinking I’m actually going to see him I’m going to be face to face with him.
Amy Donaldson 21:21
After the break, Sy finally meets George. At the prison side drew were greeted by Doug Fossen, the victim services coordinator for the Utah Department of Corrections.
Doug Fossen and said now, I know George very well. And he’s very quiet, reserved, somewhat reticent. So if it’s 15 minutes to 30 minutes, you know, that will be fine. We have the room reserved for two hours, but I highly doubt you will need that two hours.
Amy Donaldson 22:21
He led them to a room with large windows along all of the walls. There were a few tables in the visiting room and they sat at a small circular table in the middle.
And he asked Sy, you know, where do you want to sit and she said, Oh, I’d like to sit across from George.
Amy Donaldson 22:39
Sy took deep, slow breaths to calm her nerves.
Sy Snarr 22:47
And Doug Fosset comes in and I looked out there and I said that’s him? Because I hadn’t seen him since he was 19 years old. And I wouldn’t have known him. If I had a meeting face to face on the street, I wouldn’t have recognized him.
The door opened and the guard brought in, you know, a 40 year old, middle aged, clean shaven man with the whitest whites, very white clean clothing and Sy just exclaimed, I can’t believe that’s him. That’s George. I can’t believe it. And as he came through the door, so I walked up and embraced him. And he embraced her. And I was standing behind Sy and he said I’m so sorry, I took him from you. And Sy said I know you are. As we sat down George and sigh looked at each other locked in gaze like a laser focus that I have never seen before and did not defer their gaze of it for 40 minutes. Sy immediately, you know, Sy’s very open, honest. And she kind of opened up her heart and she just expressed how thankful she was for the letter.
Sy Snarr 24:27
I told him you know what that letter had meant? How it literally gave me my life back, that first letter and I actually asked him who had helped him write it because it was so beautifully written. And he said nobody helped me. He said nobody read it. And he said actually I wrote you so many letters and just throw them up because none of them were good enough.
Amy Donaldson 24:53
Drew watch silently as George and Sy exchange details about their lives.
She’s said I’ve been dreaming about this. I’ve been waiting for this for so long and he said, so have I. And Sy started asking questions about his childhood and when he, you know, was talking about his parents’ divorce. And Sy was being empathetic, like how hard George, you know, that’s so hard and he said, yes, but that’s no excuse for what I did. I do not blame anyone but myself. And that’s healing for the Snarrs. He takes full responsibility.
Amy Donaldson 25:41
As drew watch the conversation unfold, she noticed a physical change had come over her friend.
She was radiant. the bluest eyes, I heard I mean, I’ve been with her all morning, oh, sudden her blouse to come this radiant, she was glowing, as she expressed her, beyond forgiveness, the redemption for George.
Amy Donaldson 26:20
Shortly after their visit, the Utah State Prison shut its doors to visitors because of the COVID 19 pandemic. But Sy and George not only continued to write letters, they began weekly phone calls, those calls usually on a Monday are restricted to 15 minutes by prison officials.
Sy Snarr 26:38
He said, I feel like there’s things you want to say to me that you didn’t say, because you know, the boss was in there. And my friend was in there. And I said, no, I, you know, I didn’t go in there to attack him or confront him. I didn’t want to do that.
Amy Donaldson 26:50
In fact, Sy was only worried that she’d hurt George, by spending so much of their two hour visit, talking about her son.
Sy Snarr 26:58
I said, I’m really sorry that I sat there and talked about Zach so much. I’m I didn’t intend to, you know, and he said, no, he says, I’m glad you didn’t need to believe me. I remember every word you said in the hearings. And I know how special Zach was. And he says, and I think of him every day. This meant a lot to me when he said this. He said, Wherever my thoughts are, they always come back to Zachary causing Zachary. And he says, there’s never a day I don’t think about him.
Amy Donaldson 27:33
The meeting between […] and George brought them closer than ever. And eventually, that affection extended to his whole family. By the spring of 2020, the COVID 19 pandemic was closing everything from businesses to schools. But George’s mother and Aleta, who left Utah years ago, was determined to see this nurse in person.
Sy Snarr 27:52
And I told her I said, Because I you know, I’ve been emailing her and I said, you know, I know I’m gonna want to hug you. But I won’t if you don’t want me to. I’m leaving it up to you. Because she’s very, she’s been very, very careful with the pandemic, not even seeing her family or anything just and she wrote me back and she says, you know, I’m very cautious and I don’t even have my immediate family. But you, dear Sy I’m going to hug. It was. It was the sweetest thing.
Amy Donaldson 28:20
Alita flew out for just one day to see the stars. She came with George’s older brother Pablo and his wife and some of their children. As I said, in Episode 7, George asked us not to contact his family for the podcast. We respected that request.
Sy Snarr 28:35
Her son was carrying a big bouquet of flowers that she had bought me and anyway, just went and just wrap my arms around her and we just hugged and she said, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. It was really emotional. But now that was a wonderful day and we laughed, we cried. I mean with her son and his family cutest family ever. Oh my gosh, I just love them all.
Amy Donaldson 29:01
That night, the Snarr serve dinner around a long wooden table in their living room. On the wall behind it is a portrait of Zach holding his guitar and gazing off into the distance. Now, when Ron looks at that table, he thinks of that visit.
Ron Snarr 29:18
We’re all sitting around that table and I said I’m so sorry for the way I treated you and she says there’s no need to apologize. Yeah, I still am so so sorry. And I gave her a hug and so anyway, I look at that table and I think of the family around there and it was a good day in my life that I could hug his mother and apologize to her personally and I you know it’s the first time I’ve actually seen her been nice to her so that’s what was really healing for me. And anything they need I told them anything they need and I can do for him it’s gonna get done. Just know all you got to do is ask.
Sy Snarr 30:00
I hated to see him leave just the feeling they brought into the house. Our home here, I’m like, please don’t ever leave. I love this feeling. You know, it was wonderful. It’s just been the biggest blessing ever.
Amy Donaldson 30:15
Then Sy said something that shocks me.
Sy Snarr 30:18
I think they have suffered in ways more than we have.
Amy Donaldson 30:22
She says they lost a son too; the difference is their loss was saturated in shame and guilt.
Sy Snarr 30:30
They carried the guilt of what he did. They were harassed for what he did. People weren’t real nice to him for what he did. They left Utah. His mother’s landlord made her move out because she was his mother, which I think is terrible. You know, she was devastated, devastated by what he did. And she’s his mother, of course he she’s going to support him and love him. You don’t ever just a real mother, I think never gives up on their kids and she loves him. And she’s a wonderful woman.
Ron Snarr 31:07
Yeah, she’s always she’s an angel on Earth. She really is. And then what she’s gone through is been horrific.
Amy Donaldson 31:17
Sy and Ron realized they were not the only ones who needed healing. And what started with one letter of apology continues to reverberate.
Sy Snarr 31:27
When all this happened, his brother sent us an email and said that he just feels like a huge weight. The stark clouds been lifted. You know, because they’ve carried it for all these years of what he did. And we don’t want them to suffer anymore. But we love them. We literally love this family. They’re our family now.
Amy Donaldson 32:00
In the spring of 2021, Sy and Ron were invited to the wedding of George’s niece, who’s getting married in Utah. Ron asked the family most of whom live out of state to come stay at the Airbnb they own behind their house in Salt Lake City. Between the two homes is a beautiful garden and a patio draped with Wisteria. There’s a little fountain and when the wind blows, you can hear the chimes they have hanging in a large cherry tree. It was here that the family sat together to eat.
Sy Snarr 32:30
Yeah, this where we ate out here under […] I just thought Zach has got to be seeing this and he is so happy. I just thought look at this. Look at what’s come around. I actually got a little unemotional. I didn’t say anything to them about it. But I thought this is like the most wonderful thing right here. These two families who came together through a horrible tragedy, horrible thing. And yet, here we are. And it was just a beautiful thing to me, just a beautiful thing.
Amy Donaldson 33:22
And this is where the story could have ended, with an unlikely friendship forged through pain and loss and forgiveness. But something almost more remarkable was still unfolding. And it took root back in that meeting between attorney Mark Moffitt and the snares in December of 2019. As they discuss George, his background, and how he changed after spending more than 20 years in prison, Sy had something that no one even considered a possibility.
Sy Snarr 33:51
I just said I wished; I could get him out of there.
Amy Donaldson 33:56
Not only had the snares forgiven George, they felt like he deserved a second chance at life outside of prison. And they wanted the man who defended him all those years ago to wage a new fight on behalf of them and George, they wanted Mark Moffett to help their son’s killer earn a chance at parole.
Amy Donaldson 34:16
And he said do you really feel that way? And I said, I do. And he said well, there are some things you could do. Let me check into it and I was like so excited.
Amy Donaldson 36:09
Marc explores the possibilities after the break. In the months after his meeting with the Snarr’s Marc began researching if there was any way to modify Georgia sentence of life without the possibility of parole. In Utah, only the Board of Pardons and parole has that power. asking the Board to commute a sentence which means to reduce or change the original penalty is extremely rare. And Marc didn’t know of any other case in Utah or even around the country where the commutation of a sentence was requested by the victim’s family. There wasn’t really a template for what he’d been asked to do.
Marc Moffett 38:03
You can search the archives to try to find something like this. I don’t think there’s a situation like this that’s ever existed.
Amy Donaldson 38:12
Marc reached out to George and told him that the snares wanted to seek a commutation hearing on his behalf. George was overwhelmed and a little reluctant, but ultimately cooperative. But if Marc was going to make the case that George deserved having his sentence commuted, he had to understand more about his past and what led him to commit such a horrific crime at 19. When Marc was first assigned to George’s case, in 1996, he had a feeling that there was a lot of missing information about George that was critical in deciding what kind of punishment he deserved. Now, he and some of his colleagues, were going to get a second chance. They spent hours interviewing George and his family, as well as the stars about their relationship with George. Then they had the herculean task of putting it all into words.
Marc Moffett 39:05
How do you convey the idea that they forgive and love the man who killed her son? How do you say that in a way that expresses it in the way that they feel it? It’s really hard. It’s really hard.
Amy Donaldson 39:31
Once he pieced it all together into an early draft, he invited the Snarrs to his office to read it. It was August 27, the day before the 25th anniversary of their son’s murder.
Marc Moffett 39:43
All right, let me kind of explain to you what I got here. So this is a draft..
Amy Donaldson 39:49
Marc recorded part of the meeting on his phone at my request.
Marc Moffett 39:52
I’ve tried to figure out how to put it together because I’ve never done anything like this before ever.
Amy Donaldson 39:56
He confessed to the Snarr’s that he was concerned what they were about to read would be upsetting. Some of the letter to the board was about them. But most of it was about George. He told me later that he was worried about dredging up, quote, the ugliness.
Marc Moffett 40:12
The question everybody has struggled with. And I’ve thought about for years and years. So, you know, how did he get to this place we did this horrible thing. And I don’t know that I have complete answers for it. But at least I know what he went through in his life. And I talk a lot about and my work…
Amy Donaldson 40:32
That’s good, Sy says, But Marc still wonders if they’re prepared to hear what he’s uncovered.
Marc Moffett 40:38
This is as much your stories it is his. And I worry that there’s too much in here about Georgia, I want to […] guys was it.
Amy Donaldson 40:47
Marc said that it will probably change in future drafts. But for now, the narrative ends at the point where George shoots Zach and Yvette.
Marc Moffett 40:56
So, if you’re okay with that, I’m gonna give it to you and read.
Amy Donaldson 41:06
Marc told me that he turned off the recorder shortly after this, because it was intensely personal and emotional for the Snarrs, to read the details of George’s life and what led to the murder of their son. Producer Andres Martin made a separate visit to Marc’s office to find out what he learned about George.
Marc Moffett 41:24
I want to make it clear. I’m not trying to justify or excuse George Benvenuto his behavior. And importantly, he’ll be the first one to say there was no excuse for what he did. And there was no justification for what he did. And he’s very freaked out very candidly about how people are going to perceive him, how people are going to perceive his friendship with the Snarrs. He’s really worried that they’re going to read the wrong things into what I’m doing. But I this is information that the Board should have.
Amy Donaldson 41:55
And I should say here, George is not comfortable with the details about his family being included in this podcast. He told me in a letter that he worried about inflicting any more pain on his family, especially his mother. His actions he has said repeatedly, are not a reflection on his family. But like Marc, I think what he went through, including witnessing domestic violence as a child is critical in understanding what might push a person to such an extreme violent act.
Marc Moffett 42:31
George was raised in Montevideo, Uruguay. George was born into a society that was ruled by a military dictatorship. People were afraid to go outside, friends of the family had disappeared with no trace. Children were warned not to go outside alone for fear that they might disappear or be taken away. George’s father was a severe alcoholic, he was a musician who partied a lot would come home drunk and would beat his wife in front of the children. The family walked around on eggshells. George was left alone for significant periods of time that his mother was in a place where nurturing her children was a near impossible task because of the violence that she was experiencing in the home.
Amy Donaldson 43:32
In the mid-80s, Alita left her husband and move with George to live with family in New York City. He was just eight years old, and she had to leave her older children in Paraguay for a few years.
Marc Moffett 43:43
And while he was in the United States, he was left alone for hours and hours and hours during the day because his mother had no work. He came to the United States not speaking any English whatsoever. He was bullied a great deal at a number of different schools. His mother moved from place to place to place.
Amy Donaldson 44:08
Marc said that may have been 12 times they moved. At first they stayed with family, but eventually they lived on their own.
Marc Moffett 44:16
George actually went to a private Catholic school for a period of time and the bullying was somewhat better there, although it was still present. They didn’t have the financial means to remain in the Catholic school and he was going to be forced to go to a public school. They went to that school and it looked incredibly rough. He didn’t want to go to that school. I believe that he never finished high school.
Amy Donaldson 44:42
Alita hoped the move to Utah would provide the kind of support system they lacked in New York, but her hope for a better life never materialized for her youngest son. George’s life continued to spiral downward, and he felt more and more isolated.
Marc Moffett 44:59
There were are a series of break ins, where people had come in and burglarized his apartment stolen anything of value that he had. Those events had a significant impact on George. And I think throughout all of this, from the time that he was incredibly young, he struggled with depression, he struggled with feelings of lack of self-worth. He felt as if he was a person without a place in the world that his nationality had been taken away from him. His identity had been taken away from him. He didn’t ever feel like he belong, he was very much a loner. He didn’t have friends, and was actively entertaining suicide for a significant amount of time prior to the events in question in his case.
Amy Donaldson 46:06
Sy has repeatedly said in the last few years, if they’d gotten what they wanted in those first few months after Zach’s murder, the death penalty for his killer, none of what’s happening now would be possible. She understands today, what she did when they were fighting in court against Mark Moffitt and the defense team. All of those beautiful moments she now cherishes. They aren’t hers, if George is executed.
Sy Snarr 46:32
You look at everybody on that side of the room, you think they’re against you. They’re against you. Well, they’re not. You don’t know if I’d have been rational back then I would have realized, you know, they’re doing their job. Their job was really to save his life. And I’m so glad they did it.
Amy Donaldson 46:48
And for Marc Moffett, who has spent his adult life working to abolish the death penalty, what happened between the Snarrs and George illustrates why.
Marc Moffett 46:58
People can change and forgiveness for even the most horrible of acts is possible. I mean, real forgiveness. I mean, I maybe everybody’s cynical, and maybe nobody thinks that it’s possible, but it is. And it’s happened.
Amy Donaldson 47:12
The question is, what do we want from our criminal justice system? Is there room for concepts like forgiveness or redemption? And what should that look like for all involved? Because while the snares want George released from prison, Yvette, as you will hear later, feels differently.
Marc Moffett 47:29
What is the criminal justice system supposed to be? Right? I mean, the criminal justice system is supposed to be a place where people are held accountable for what they’ve done. But it’s also ideally a place where people can redeem themselves. It’s a place where people can mature it’s a place where people can change and change in a positive way so that they don’t affect society, again, in a negative way, and none of that would have been possible had George been given the death penalty. And now that it has happened, it shows that it can happen. And if it can happen, then why are we executing people? Why do we want to remove the possibility of something like this happening?
Amy Donaldson 48:21
When Sy and Ron began their efforts to try and modify Georgia’s prison sentence, they saw a reason to participate in the podcast. As the impacts of George’s original letter continued to ripple outward, they knew the story would attract media attention. Their hope was that the podcast would give people a more complete understanding of what happened. And by this point, they felt their bond with George and his family was strong enough to withstand any scrutiny. But there was still a critical voice missing. So last spring, I wrote George letter. He wrote me back immediately thanking me for taking the time to reach out to him. He didn’t want to do an interview, but he did agree to answer some questions through letters. He explained that when he first heard about the podcast, he felt very conflicted. He understood that Ron and sigh wanted to participate and he supports their decision. But he also worried that sharing this story with strangers would cause new pain for everyone. He worried about the snares first and foremost, he wrote, I’m very grateful to the Snarr family, for not only forgiving me, but also for how they have embraced me and helped me to move on too, which is something I didn’t realize I needed as well. They’d become like family to me, I’ve grown to love them. So it bothers me that they’re being asked to relive painful memories, this nightmare that I caused them and what it may do to them. Georgia also expressed concern for his own family, quote, they received their fair share of negative attention, harassment and hate mail. This has always bothered me as they bear no responsibility for what I did. But people will always say, What kind of monster did they raise. He was also concerned about the pain this might cause a vet who chose not to accept a letter. And lastly, he was concerned that the podcast would bring him attention, something that’s extremely problematic in prison. Nothing good ever happens to inmates who are shown on TV he wrote; anonymity is the best way to serve time. George city spent 17 years in maximum security, while his family and friends went to school, got married started families. He sat alone in a prison cell day after day. George said there wasn’t one thing that caused him to write the letter to the snores. Instead, he felt like he should do it for many years. I felt like I owed them at least an apology for what I had done, he said, but I thought that I didn’t have the words to do so that I couldn’t articulate it the way I wanted to. George told me that he worried that his inability to express himself would make an apology seem insincere. Other people advised him against it, they said it would cause more harm than good, that he’d already hurt them enough, and that he should just leave them alone. And he agreed with all of that. But he also couldn’t shake the feeling that he should reach out. While he was in maximum security, he said he struggled as many people do, with how isolation creates an even darker and more resentful mental state, quote, it hindered me from getting to the point in which I could contact them. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it took me so long. I always found a reason to put it off for another day. He was still struggling with his own mental health issues. I’ve spent so much of my life caught up in my own unresolved issues, that I couldn’t see anything or anyone else. And what they were going through he wrote, he said he thought about Yvette and Zach every day, he regretted not getting help. He regretted not recognizing that he needed help. He spent a few years trying to write apology letters, but he always ended up throwing them away. They were never good enough. He wrote to me. What does one say to those one has hurt so much. But I kept feeling that it was something I had to do. So he kept writing them until he wrote the letter he ended up sending to his mom. She held it until the end was able to make contact with the Snarrs. While he waited, he thought about what might happen. At worst, he said they’d rejected the best case scenario he imagined. The Snarr family would say, okay, you’ve said your piece. Now never contact us again.
Amy Donaldson 52:59
His first surprise came when sigh wrote back. To my amazement, sigh continued to write me. So I continued to write her. He was disappointed when he learned that Yvette didn’t want a letter from him. But he understood. George wrote that as he exchanged letters with the snares, he began to feel healing in ways he hadn’t known he was hurting, quote, I carried around a lot of guilt over what I had done and communicating with them helped me to, it is difficult to describe on paper, everything that has happened over the last two years, how one thing has led to the next in such an unexpected way. The Snarrs are truly amazing people. In another letter to me, he said, I’m not the first inmate to have written to his victims with an apology. What has been amazing in this case, is the response by the Snarr family, which I am still humbled by.
Amy Donaldson 54:03
In all the years since the murder, Sy I had never seen the video where George made his confession to police, which you heard in episode three. Before this podcast, nobody outside law enforcement or the judicial system had access to it, which isn’t unusual. But when I told her I’d watched it, S asked if she could see it. I took my laptop to her house and played it for her. […] I’ll admit, I was a little nervous to show Sy the video. Would it cause her pain? Would it disrupt the peace she had found in their relationship with George? Would it change how she felt about the letter? Thing is really stupid. If I had to do over again I wouldn’t do that. But clearly, the man Sy has been writing letters to, she doesn’t see him as the same person who killed her son.
Sy Snarr 55:04
Well, just a young boy. Now I just think he’s too young to have that severe sentence. He is a different person. I just think the whole thing is just so tragic. It’s sad for Zach, Yvette, for all of us, for Yvette’s family. But it’s sad for him. It’s sad for his family. It just changed so many lives, put so many lives in a different direction, you know, and it’s just something that never should have happened. It was just so senseless. I would love to just give him some kind of hope. You know, I don’t know that they’ll ever let him out. I don’t know that they ever would. But I would go to bat for him.
Amy Donaldson 55:57
Because commutation requests are so rarely granted. No one knows if George even has a chance to earn parole from prison. But as Mark and his colleagues research how to make that request, Sy grows more nervous about the role she will have to play. If the Board of Pardons grants George a hearing.
Sy Snarr 56:16
I just hope I can convey what’s in my heart. That’s what I’m nervous about that. I won’t be able to make them understand. Because it’s so important. And I just want this so bad. And I literally pray that I will be able to know what to say that’s going to help him.
Amy Donaldson 56:40
Ron says it’s taken him a while to get to the same place as his wife. But he’s fully on board now.
Ron Snarr 56:46
I second everything my wife has said I love to see him walk out of the Gunnison prison and take him to see his mother.
Amy Donaldson 56:59
But Sy and Ron have worried a lot about what other people will think about their efforts to have George’s sentence commuted. They worried about telling their friends and family and they worried about the impact it would have on Yvette.
Sy Snarr 57:13
You know, I’ve been very concerned how it would affect her. I did write her a letter because she you know, I tried to call her she didn’t call me back. So I wrote her letter and told her what we’re doing with this and why. And I just said, you know, I’m not going to try to contact you anymore. But my doors always open. Our doors always open because of our whole family loves her. We just love her. And but she hasn’t chosen to do at it. You know, I’d like to explain to her why we’re doing it. But it’s up to her. It’s out of our hands that we’re doing what we know is right. And we’re doing what we know Zach wants us to do. And we’re doing what we want to do. We want this we want it really bad.
Amy Donaldson 58:07
Meanwhile, Yvette still doesn’t want to hear from George. She does not want him in her life.
Yvette Rodier 58:13
I think that decision has been really solid for me. And I haven’t second guessed it.
Amy Donaldson 58:19
And when she got a letter from psi with an update, she asked her husband to read it.
Yvette Rodier 58:24
She sent a letter that Dave read. And then he gave me a little summary of it.
Amy Donaldson 58:30
Without knowing all the details. Yvette understands that the snores want to help George get out of prison.
Yvette Rodier 58:36
If there’s an opportunity for me to oppose it. I will. Has it
Amy Donaldson 58:41
caused you any anxiety or fear you feel badly about it or fear about it.
Yvette Rodier 58:48
It’s terrifying to me. I’ve never in my whole life ever thought that he would be released. That’s always been a really lovely comfort. So to think he could get out is really, really scary. And I think what I’ve worried most about or felt most fear about is disappointing the snares. And I know we have a difference of opinion. But I don’t ever want them to think that that means I don’t love them and don’t care. And so that part, I think I worry more about that potential relationship being changed.
Amy Donaldson 59:24
Even while Yvette opposes what the snares are doing. She feels nothing but empathy for them.
Yvette Rodier 59:30
They’ve lived a totally different life than I have in their loss I can never understand. And so the way that they want to move forward with this is it’s just different. And so I don’t have any anger toward that opinion. It’s the way that they have gone through this and this is what they need to do. So I fully support that like, absolutely, they should do that. And I think they would feel the same about if I oppose it then absolutely I should oppose it. We haven’t had a face to As to really, I guess hash it out or anything, but I just knowing them for all the years that I have since I was what seventh or eighth grade, that they’re just such great people that it’s okay to have difference of opinions and will always respect and love one another. And that’s, it’s kind of like it’s family.
Amy Donaldson 1:00:23
Yvette said she’s been living in relative peace, since she’s recovered from the federal courthouse shooting in 2014. She just hope she can maintain it.
Yvette Rodier 1:00:32
Luckily, I haven’t been afraid since I got through kind of the shooting stuff. We I haven’t had any major scary things. But yeah, I know it would come back really easily. That’s something that seems to sneak up pretty quickly and can the fear can be pretty intense. I definitely think even if he does get released, I will still have the peace and closure that I have now. I think I will just it will be an extra level of fear for a while. And then hopefully I work through that.
Amy Donaldson 1:01:11
Yvette said her healing is not tied to what happens to George and she wants to keep it that way.
Yvette Rodier 1:01:16
He’s never been a part of my life or my peace or my anything. It’s been really lucky for me that I really don’t think about him. He has no influence or anything in my life so yet to have been able to cut him out of all of my healing and all of my moving forward I think is helping a lot for this part.
Amy Donaldson 1:01:45
Saturday, August 28 2021 was the 25th anniversary of Zach’s death. And it is also the anniversary of the day Yvette was nearly killed. The day that she was put on a path she didn’t choose. I wondered what sign Ron would do and how they would spend the day. I wondered how the anniversary of the shooting impacted Yvette. I reached out to both of them. Yvette told me that the anniversary is different for her every year. She admitted that is hard on her husband Dave because sometimes she’s a mess. And sometimes she’s fine. In 2021 She was a mess. The couple plan to leave town for the weekend of the anniversary, hoping that being far from Utah would ease the pain. But […] family decided to spread his debt mom’s ashes on their property in Heber City, a small town on the backside of the Wasatch Mountains. That’s Saturday, the 28th I’m having a much harder time than last year. She told me in an email. I’m sad. I didn’t get to choose how to spend the day. But I also love my family. And we do all the things for our family, right. That Thursday after the anniversary, the snores invited me to their house to talk to them about how they’d gotten through the weekend. But also to meet a new family member.
Amy Donaldson 1:03:15
Otto Snarr, a Bernese mountain dog does not want to leave the shade of the Wisteria in the back.
Sy Snarr 1:03:23
He’s amazing. is the cutest? He’s just a 10 weeks. Look how big he is. Actually we got him a week ago Tuesday. He’s already gained four pin. Look at the size of his paws. He’s gonna be huge. Love this dog.
Amy Donaldson 1:03:57
Sy laid up on the couch because of back problems. So I sit down next to her while Ron entertains the puppy with a toy that spins like a top. So I wanted to ask you what you guys end up doing Saturday?
Sy Snarr 1:04:10
Well, we were supposed to go to cemetery. I couldn’t even move. So Ron went to the cemetery. I did not, his mother emailed me which was sweet. And I emailed her. It’s a hard day for both of us. For both families. It’s a really tough day. It’s you know, you relive it 25 years now. Quarter of a century. Unbelievable.
Amy Donaldson 1:04:35
What did the email say?
Sy Snarr 1:04:37
just how, it was a text actually. She said dear Sy I know how you and Ron must be feeling today. I’m fasting and praying for both of you.
Amy Donaldson 1:04:48
Sy says she first wrote to Alita on the anniversary, three years ago.
Sy Snarr 1:04:52
So I emailed her on August 28. Can I just I said you know, I know this has to be hard for me for you to I’d thought of her On August 28, how hard it must be for her to and she wrote me back and said, I have been crying all day today. And she does just like I do. You know? We both lost sons that day in a weird sort of way, you know? Yeah. So it’s a tough day for them to tough day for us.
Amy Donaldson 1:05:19
Did it feel different because of the relationship you have with the Benvenuto’s now?
Sy Snarr 1:05:24
Yeah, even holidays. Now. I mean, holidays used to be so hard, but you know, it’s not as painful as it used to be. I don’t know, there’s just been so much healing take place. And there’s so much love, instead of hatred and anger, you know, and I have felt a huge difference. I’m just so grateful for what’s happened between our two families. It just means everything. It’s made it better. It’s just made it easier.
Amy Donaldson 1:05:49
And then suddenly, as we’re talking Sy’s phone rings.
Sy Snarr 1:05:56
Amy Donaldson 1:05:57
I was so excited about the unexpected call. She didn’t mention I was there. Hello, this is a free call from my recorder. It was an exercise on the couch. And they captured their phone call. I didn’t plan to use it. But after listening to it, I felt it showed the relationship in a way that is difficult to capture in words. This call is from a correctional facility, and it’s subject to monitoring and recording. Sy explained the situation to George, and they consented to us using the recording.
Sy Snarr 1:06:28
George. Okay. It’s so good to hear from you. I haven’t heard from you for a while. I’ve been worried about you. […] I got it. I got the letter. Yeah, I got it. What’s today? Thursday? I got it yesterday. Yeah, I was so happy to get it. Is this a […] Yes. It’s a good time.
Amy Donaldson 1:06:57
They talked for a while about Sy’s health. A little bit better than the last time we spoke. Well, yeah. George asked about Ron’s health inside gives him an update. And talk about how Ron has to pick up the slack around the house, including caring for the new puppy.
Sy Snarr 1:07:12
Oh, he’s so cute. So sweet. We just love him so much. […] oh, I am too. It’s actually helped having him here.
Amy Donaldson 1:07:23
Sy I asked about his job at the prison. They catch up on the latest news from Marc 2Moffett and the letter he’s working on to the Board of Pardons. She’s ready to draft and George tells her it’s now 24 pages long.
Sy Snarr 1:07:36
Well, I’m glad you called I you know, your mom told me you’ve been there’s been a lot of stuff happening and you’re locked down a lot. And I hate to think of you locked down and I’ll tell you that. That’s hard. […] Oh, yeah. I talked to her on Tuesday. Ron and I both talked to her Tuesday. I think the week before he did not talk to her. I was having just..
Amy Donaldson 1:08:09
And this is where we leave you. The same way. We began a phone call between the mother and the man who killed her son. And a letter in the mail.
Sy Snarr 1:08:24
I’m so glad you called. I’ll get a letter off to you this week. Well, you take care of yourself, George. You take care and you get better.
Amy Donaldson 1:08:57
This is not the end of the story. But it is where this story ends. At least for now. Attorney Marc Moffett is still planning to file a commutation request with the Utah Board of Pardons and parole. Because the snores believe George deserves at least a chance at parole. And we will bring you any developments about that. But the law surrounding this is complicated. And that could take time to develop. But that’s really what we want to leave you with. No story about the human experience is static. The stories change and evolve because the people change and evolve. And the people in this story are proof that we can heal from even the deepest wounds. We grieve because we love, so our grief doesn’t really end but it changes us. And sometimes in that transformation, we can find surprising gifts or what some might call miracles.
And now it’s time to turn the mic over to listeners. I’m producer Andrea Smardon. And for the last bonus episode of the season, we’re sharing some of the voicemails and messages we’ve received about how this podcast has impacted some of you. You can get all the bonus content by subscribing to Lemonada Premium. You can subscribe right now in the Apple podcast app by clicking on our podcasts logo, and then click the subscribe button. 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.