TALLAHASSEE — A Florida prison inmate serving a life term for lending his car to friends who committed murder during a burglary lost his bid for immediate release Wednesday.
After an emotional debate at a clemency hearing, Gov. Rick Scott and three Cabinet members took no action in the case of Ryan Holle, 32, of Pensacola, despite evident sympathy from Scott and a favorable recommendation from state investigators. "He had no knowledge or participation in the murder,'' wrote investigators who reviewed the case.
After a long night of drinking back in 2003, Holle, then 21, loaned his car to friends who burglarized a house looking for cash and marijuana in a safe. During the break-in, Jessica Snyder, 18, was beaten to death with a shotgun.
Four other men are serving life sentences for the killing. So is Holle, even though he was at his own home when Snyder was killed. But Holle told police that he knew about a planned burglary. He was prosecuted under the so-called felony murder rule that holds all participants responsible for a death during commission of a felony.
Holle's stepfather, John Garnett of Destin, said he urged Holle to reject a plea deal that would have meant a 10-year prison term in exchange for his testimony against the others.
"We didn't know about the felony murder rule. That's just insane," added Holle's mother, Sylvia Garnett. "We are so sorry about what happened to Jessica and her family."
But Attorney General Pam Bondi, a former prosecutor, challenged that statement. She said the trial judge was required to tell Holle and his lawyer what was at stake under Florida law. Bondi called Holle "the mastermind" of the crime that ended in Snyder's brutal killing.
"(Holle) is our comparison to Charles Manson," said the victim's father, Terry Snyder. "He participated in the planning of the crime and was the most instrumental in seeing its success ... No car, no crime."
Snyder said Holle gave his accomplices bandannas to cover his Chevy's license tag and their faces during the crime.
Jessica's younger sister Marcie, 23, fought back tears as she pleaded with state officials to keep Holle in prison.
"When they asked for the keys to the car, he could have said no," she testified. "I don't trust anybody now. I'm scared to."
Assistant State Attorney Ken Ridlehoover said the Pensacola prosecutor's office also opposed Holle's release.
"The bottom line is that Jessica Snyder is dead because Ryan Holle lent his car to his friends to facilitate a burglary and a robbery," the prosecutor said. "He had his day in court. He had his appeal and it was denied."
Scott repeatedly asked the victim's mother about drugs, citing the fact that she served a three-year prison term for drug use.
"You didn't sell drugs?" Scott asked Christina Snyder, who said she did not.
The debate ended with no vote after Scott said he was taking the case under advisement. To win clemency, an inmate must win three votes, and one must come from the governor.
If Scott had called for a vote, Holle likely would have lost any chance for release. Bondi was the most vocal opponent. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the other two clemency board members and both considered likely to run for governor, posed skeptical questions and did not voice any support for Holle.
A review of the case by the Florida Commission on Offender Review recommended that Holle be set free immediately.
"He has now served more than 11 years; he was 20 years old at the time of the crime; he has no history of disciplinary reports and good program participation; no prior criminal history; brief military service; (and) he has numerous letters of support," wrote the investigator, Russ Gallogly.
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.