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Woman exonerated for South Korea murder sues FBI

May 26th, 2007 . by Matt

A woman is suing the FBI for forcing her to confess to the murder of a friend in South Korea.

A former Marshall University student who spent nearly two years in prison before being exonerated in the 2001 killing of an exchange student in South Korea, has sued the FBI, claiming federal agents violated her constitutional rights by coercing her to confess.

Kenzi Snider, 25, claims FBI agents wrongly focused on her as a suspect in the March 2001 death of Jamie Lynn Penich, 21, while ignoring evidence that suggested Penich was sexually assaulted and stomped to death by one or two men.

Snider was arrested by FBI agents in West Virginia in February 2002 and sent to Seoul in December that year.

A Seoul District Court acquitted her in June 2003, and South Korea’s highest court upheld the ruling in January 2006. Snider, formerly of St. Cloud, Minn., now lives in Wayne County.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the FBI, agents Marc DiVittis and Seung Lee and Army Criminal Investigation Agent Mark F. Mansfield.

FBI spokesman Rob Ambrosini said Friday the agency is aware of the lawsuit, but does not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy. Snider’s lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Snider and Penich, a University of Pittsburgh student from Derry Township, Pa., were among a group of seven exchange students in South Korea in the spring of 2001. They attended Keimyung University in southern South Korea.

After the group went out for dinner and drinks on March 17, 2001, Snider and Penich ran into several American soldiers at a pub before walking back to their hotel together.

The next morning Penich’s naked body was found inside a hotel room, her face covered with a black cloth.

Snider’s lawsuit said FBI agents zeroed in on Snider as their primary suspect after drumming up a “lesbian angle” as a possible motive. During three days of questioning, the agents misled Snider into believing she had repressed memories about killing Penich until she “finally accepted the version of the murder proffered by the defendants.”

“Other than the coerced false confession, no evidence was developed or introduced tying Ms. Snider to the murder,” says the lawsuit, filed by Chicago lawyer J. Samuel Tenebaum. “In fact, physical evidence and eyewitness statements known to the defendants, but ignored by them at the time of their interrogation, strongly indicated Ms. Snider’s innocence.”

Initial forensics reports found semen in Penich’s vagina. Witnesses also reported seeing and hearing men outside her room around the time of her death, according to the lawsuit. The brutal nature of the attack also suggests that the killer was a man.


8 Responses to “Woman exonerated for South Korea murder sues FBI”

  1. comment number 1 by: University Update

    Woman exonerated for South Korea murder sues FBI…

  2. comment number 2 by: usinkorea

    I like that last line — the brutal nature of the attack suggests that the killer was a man…

    The covering of the face also suggests the murder knew the victim and felt remorse after the act…

    The stomping of the girl’s face in also suggests insane rage at the person.

    Something like sticking a large beer bottle and umbrella up the vagina – like in the 1990s Markle Murder case – suggests sexual assault by crass men – stomping the face in suggests a more personal rage.

    It is possible some grown adult can be “confused” into admitting they stomped a girl’s face in. Perhaps she could remain confused enough to make the same confession twice.

    Until I know more about the interrogation – however – I’m not going to award her any money, even if she is innocent (in reality – not just in Korean court).

    The report of semen in the dead girl is the first I have heard about that, and I looked around a good bit covering the case back when it happened. I could have forgotten it. I’ll have to check. The fact that this piece of evidence is tucked at the very end of the article does not inspire confidence.

    The stuff about “hearing men outside” is also fluff —- it was St. Patrick’s Day and there were a lot of people – just like this girl’s group – who travelled far to be in Seoul to party hard – and were staying in hotels like this one. So, there were drunk people out in the halls.

    Yeah – that sure makes good evidence she didn’t do it….

    The best item I have heard that made me doubt her guilt was the fact that —- the European girl who was actually staying in the room with the dead girl — said she slept (passed out) through the whole violent murder. She also went back to Europe fairly quickly after the event, but I probably wouldn’t want to stay in Korea after a friend had her faced kicked in while I was sleeping (if I kicked her face in or was telling the truth)…

    Another thing, I believe all this “lesbian angle” was cooked up —- based on testimony Snider gave in South Korea after the murder.

    She said that she helped the drunk girl into the shower, and the girl tried to kiss her, and she ended up leaving, but she came back in some time later to check on her to see if she were alright, and she peaked in the room and thought the dead girl was sleeping and so left again.

    From what I remember of reading articles on the case, the lesbian angle was a direct result of Snider’s words early on.

    And also from those articles, she was the one telling the stories about drunk GIs and people who “made her worry” at the clubs they were going to that night.

    I don’t remember reading another girl who was in their group being quoted as saying she was also concerned about this or that guy they ran into at the clubs.

    I was not at the trial. My opinion is not too well informed and means nothing…

    ….but I read enough to take this item out of my “who knows” box and place it in the “She probably killed that girl” —

    —and I thought she would rest easy knowing she is free and got away with it.

    Now, I guess, she’s going for a pay day.

    If the FBI beat her or did things highly out of the ordinary, then give her some money.

    If not, she should count herself lucky. If there was any “clear evidence” at the time of the investigation and trial that showed she was “clearly” innocent and the trial was a sham – it sure as hell didn’t make it into the press, and the press paid attention….

    If she is guilty, I hope she doesn’t ask God for forgiveness and she rots in hell.

  3. comment number 3 by: chase

    usinkorea
    You seem like you know a lot about this case. I was slightly confused with one thing though. The girls are European, not American? If your comments are all true, I am not convinced about her innocence either. Some of her comments do seem “cooked up”.

    This is not really related to the article but the mention of ““lesbian angle”” reminded me of this territble teenage murder. 1 2

  4. comment number 4 by: usinkorea

    The victim and acquitted women were American. They were not sharing the same room in the hotel where they were staying as they celebrated St. Paddy’s Day. The dead girl was in a room with a girl from Europe. I think they were all exchange students from the same university somewhere pretty far south of Seoul and came to Itaewon to party.

  5. comment number 5 by: usinkorea

    Well, my memory was faulty on the semen thing:

    One issue is whether Penich had consensual sex with her attacker or was sexually assaulted. The lab found semen on the underwear of Penich and the student who shared the hotel room with Penich. During the autopsy, they also recovered semen from the body, Lee said.

    It was tucked down in the later third of this long article too…

    Part of it might be —– it seems safe to assume the girls were in town for more than just one night – having come up to Seoul to party for the holiday. And in Itaewon….So, no telling how many times they might have had sex (or not) besides the time that got the goo in those two different sets of panties.

    1 thing I’d like to know is if the semen in both panties were from the same male or not — as I noted earlier, I am sure it was part of Snider’s original answers to questions before she left Korea sometime later (before she was a suspect) that the dead girl tried to kiss her as Snider helped her into the shower….

    Anyway, except for this lawsuit, the trial has been long over and done with – and in my head too. When I die and go to heaven, it will be one of the mysteries solved for me….

    I think from this Stars and Stripes article, you can see that the USFK authorities did a bunch in conjunction with the Korean police in looking HARD at a GI suspect – and from what I remember, it was Snider’s description of what they saw and heard and met at the clubs (as I remember it, they went bar hopping, not just to one place) – that led the police to focus harder on a GI suspect than they would have naturally – though they were sure to think “GI” first in Itaewon anyway…

    Given how long the investigation went on – the whole time looking for other suspects – unless the FBI did some major no-nos that have never been reported (and I’m sure they would have been reported) —- my guess is Ms. Snider either ran into money problems, or wasn’t happy with her current level of wealth (whatever that might be) or some lawyer who caught wind of the story got in her ear about how they she (meaning he) could get rich seek justice for the miscarriage of justice.

  6. comment number 6 by: usinkorea

    Oopss……I should have continued reading just below before posting —–

    This next quote gives you an idea of why I gave up trying to put too much thought into the case back when I was collecting articles about it:

    But Hwang repeatedly disputed Lee’s remarks, saying no semen was found on the underwear or during the autopsy. Tests for semen were performed, Hwang said, but were negative.

    In a later interview, Lee reaffirmed finding semen.

    Maybe Hwang thought he meant, “seamen” – and new Itaewon was not Inchon….???….

    It got more confusing a little later:

    Penich’s roommate told Stars and Stripes that she disputes the finding of semen on her clothing. She said she had no contact with a man while in South Korea.

    She also said she doesn’t believe Penich had intimate contact with a man that weekend or since arriving in South Korea on March 1. Hwang said South Korean police didn’t ask the Dutch woman if she had sex because it would have been an invasion of privacy.

    OK. Let’s skip over the “didn’t ask if she had had sex because it would be an invasion of privacy ” issue for a more pressing one – in my mind at least —- a dutch girl had not had sex since arriving in Korea? OK. Well. If she came on March 1st, and it was March 17th…..But, they were doing a whole weekend of bar hopping in Itaewon after a long trip up…..

    OK. I’m playing into the Dutch stererotype. But, I also spent 6 months in France at an international dormitory……OK. Maybe she was homely….With all this scientific experts and police people not being able to even get on the same page as to whether semen was found anywhere or not —- I can let things slide….

    Here was another point:

    Autopsy results indicated Penich hadn’t been raped, Lee said. But rape hasn’t been ruled out, he said, because rape cannot always be physically detected.

    Again, with my junior G-man, Law & Order, TV-watching certificate —- I would think that no signs of rape, but signs of sex (maybe), but with a violently kicked in face (I can remember articles describing teeth having flown around the room) – and with the face covered afterward – we are talking about someone who knew the girl more intimately than a bar-pickup – and not necessarily the person she had sex with (if she had sex – with a boy)….

    The story makes things more jumbled because of how it ordered the presentation of statements. You have to wait paragraphs later to get:

    Lee said the lab used an enzyme to test for semen, and the reaction on the two pairs of underpants was “very, very slight.” A lab assistant who conducted the test said the sexual contact might have occurred three to four days before the murder.

    Lee described his assistant’s estimate is speculative, not scientific. The assistant said he doesn’t believe the alleged sexual contact happened the night of the crime.

    OK. Nobody is getting convicted in this case – if you have a jury……..Too bad for the victim’s family, and I mean that in all seriousness…

    This all does – however – shed some interesting light onto the article that started this thread when it used the great discovery of semen as a clear-as-day evidence Snider was obviously innocent.

    There are several other things that stand out in this long article – and it does give you a good idea how the coverage went from start to finish….I guess including this latest twist…

  7. comment number 7 by: usinkorea

    Also, as a last post for now and probably forever, one of the oddest twists in this case was reading how the Korean court had tossed the FBI confessions out because they had not been made in front of a Korean prosecutor, at least that is how I remember it.

    If the Court and/or prosecutor’s knew Korean law would not allow the (2) FBI confessions in – or that there was a more than good chance the confession(S)would be tossed, why the heck did they move to extradite her?

    I have a vague itching in the back of my mind that this case might have come not long after the US and SK signed an extradition treaty – or I could be dreaming all that up —- I might have to google for that one…..

    But, anyway, I would think if Snider is going to sue anybody for the case, it would be the South Korean prosecutors and government for putting the paperwork to have her shipped over and tried in Korea when the only major piece of evidence against her (and 2 confessions is pretty major in my book) stood a good chance of being tossed out during the trial…..

    But…..I’m not a lawyer and I’m going by news articles I read some time ago…

  8. comment number 8 by: usinkorea

    From the US Embassy site: “An extradition treaty between the United States and the ROK entered into force in December 1999.”

    Dec 1999 to March 2001 is basically a year.

    From slightly later googling…also from the Embassy website:

    December 24, 2002

    On Friday, December 20, the first U.S. citizen to be extradited from the United States to South Korea under a 1999 agreement between the two countries arrived in Korea to face charges in a Korean court. Kenzi Noris Elizabeth Snider, 21, is accused of the murder of American student Jamie Lynn Penich in an Itaewon motel room on March 18, 2001. Ms. Snider is currently being questioned at the Yongsan Police Station and will remain in the custody of Korean authorities until the completion of judicial procedures. A date has not yet been set for the trial.

    The investigation into this case and the arrest and extradition of Ms. Snider was the result of extensive cooperation and coordination between U.S. and Korean law enforcement agencies.

    The United States and South Korea signed an extradition treaty on June 9, 1998. It went into effect on December 20, 1999.

    My brain can recall the extradition thingy well enough, but it blanked out on the semen in connection to this case….

    that sucks…..