Young guilty of first-degree murder (w/video)

Tri-City HeraldApril 25, 2014 

— Sitting in judgment of a 19-year-old man wasn’t easy for 12 Benton County jurors, especially when they knew a guilty verdict would put him behind bars for some time.

But the panel couldn’t overlook the evidence and John C.I. Young’s own statement that he fired a gun at a 17-year-old Richland boy.

The decision Friday was unanimous: Young must “suffer the consequences” for ending Joshua Snapp’s life with a bullet to the head.

It was an emotional process, two jurors told the Herald hours after they helped convict Young of first-degree murder with a firearm.

“It definitely was difficult. Just the fact that we all realized once we made that determination, once that verdict went out, that’s basically this kid’s life,” said one juror, who asked not to be named. He admitted that he had been one of several on the verge of tears.

“One life was already ruined as a result of this. And the fact that someone else’s life rode on whether or not we were correct on this decision, that was really heavy.”

The Superior Court jury found that Young acted with premeditated intent in the July 4 death of Snapp.

Young and Joshua H. Hunt took Snapp to a remote location off Beardsley Road near Horn Rapids to confront the younger teen because they believed he was a thief and a snitch. The three smoked a bowl of marijuana ,then, after they all stood up, Hunt pulled out a revolver and shot Snapp in the chest.

Doctors said Snapp could have survived the chest wound if the teens had gotten immediate help, but instead they put two more bullets into

Snapp’s head and left his body in the desert.

Family and friends for Snapp and Young filled the courtroom Friday for the reading.

Upon hearing the word “guilty,” Snapp’s loved ones — including his parents and siblings — let out gasps and cries of “Yes.” Later they wept and hugged each other while thanking the prosecutors and Richland police investigators.

Young stared straight ahead for the verdict, but he was shaking his head and having trouble walking as corrections officers led him out of the courtroom.

This was the second time the Snapp family had to listen to graphic testimony in trial.

In the last one, Hunt was convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm because two jurors voted against a first-degree verdict. Hunt, 20, is at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton on a 23-year, four-month sentence.

On Friday, father Chris Snapp said the family is pleased with the Young verdict.

“We were a little disappointed with the Hunt trial. We felt like justice was served this time,” he said. “At the same time, our hearts are a little heavy for the other family. We know that they were hoping for something else.”

Chris Snapp said the family isn’t necessarily happy because it’s something that never should have happened, but they couldn’t deny feeling relief at being able to put it behind them.

“Now we can really start moving on and remembering Josh properly, instead of worrying about the trial and everything that’s brought us to this point,” he said.

A teary-eyed Aimee Snapp-Reutercrona, Josh’s mother, added: “It’s justice for our son. It is.”

Prosecutor Andy Miller recognized that some people could view it as unfair because Hunt — who went by the nickname R.J. — was believed to be the instigator.

Miller said after Hunt was convicted of a lesser charge, he gave Young the opportunity to plead guilty to second-degree murder so he wouldn’t face a punishment longer than his codefendant.

The prosecutor said the Snapp family and Richland police agreed it was an appropriate offer, and would have spared the family from going through another trial. Young declined the offer.

Now, Young is facing between 26 to 33 years behind bars. That includes a five-year mandatory term for the firearm enhancement.

Unlike Hunt, Young does have a criminal history, which increases his standard range. His felony convictions in Benton County Juvenile Court are delivery of a controlled substance in 2011 and residential burglary in 2012.

“I do think there are some competing considerations. I have a lot of sympathy for the argument that we should, to a certain extent, be guided by being consistent with the Hunt verdict,” Miller told the Herald. “(But) Young is in a position of his own making with his decision to assist in murdering Josh Snapp and, secondly, his insistency in going to trial.”

Young could be looking at a “substantially longer sentence,” Miller said, but he will hold off on his recommendation until getting input from the family and case investigators.

“It was good for the Snapp family to see that justice was done on this case,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s a sad case all around. I feel bad for

Mr. Young’s family. I feel bad for R.J. Hunt’s family. The idea of having (an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old) kill a 17-year-old, it’s terribly sad.”

Sentencing tentatively is set for May 2.

Miller and Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long met with the jury for about an hour after the verdict to answer questions and discuss the case.

Jurors were impressed with the sensitivity and compassion that Officer Jeff Bickford and Detective Athena Clark showed to Young during the five-hour videotaped interview, Miller said.

The jury said it was clear they weren’t forcing any statement and suggesting answers for Young, and that led the panel to give more credibility to the interview, Miller added.

One juror agreed the interview helped a lot in their deliberations.

“Unfortunately I believe, because he gave a full statement to the police, that he self-incriminated and there was not much going back on that,” the juror said.

The four women and eight men spent about 31⁄2 hours total deliberating, which a juror admitted wasn’t an “extreme amount of time.” However, they made sure all opinions were heard and that they felt confident in the decision.

They took multiple votes Thursday afternoon and Friday morning because several jurors initially weren’t fully convinced that Young’s role amounted to first-degree murder.

But after talking it through, along with reviewing their notes and the evidence, they all came to the consensus that the shot fired by Young did go into Snapp’s head.

“I’m a father, and the concept of the things that happened that night, not just the shooting but the things leading up to it, terrifies me,” a juror said. “But I had to step back from what I wanted to believe was true” and base it on the evidence and his own experience with firearms.

He said he thought it was highly unlikely that both of Hunt’s shots, after the initial one to the chest, hit Snapp in the head, and more likely that the third shot came from Young. He added that it became premeditated when Young took the gun, pulled the hammer back, thought about it some more and then took the shot.

“I guess at first I had some sympathy because I have an 18-year-old son,” said the other juror. “But then, recognizing that the victim was also approximately an 18-year-old male, made me recognize that it was multiple parties involved.”

The juror said as the trial progressed he realized Young had no sympathy for Snapp that morning nine months ago, and the juror’s own sympathy then transferred over to the victim’s family.

“I still hate to put a young man into jail, but he must suffer the consequences,” he said. He believed Young helped plan the shooting by teaching

Hunt how to use the gun and telling him where they should go, then formulated a plan to put all of the blame on Hunt while the two hung out in Benton City the morning after.

Defense attorney John Crowley had argued there was no evidence actually showing that the bullet fired by Young hit the teen.

He suggested Young shot the “pristine” bullet that was found near Snapp’s head, or one that was discovered near where Hunt had parked the car that morning.

Crowley wasn’t in court Friday for the verdict. Kennewick lawyers Michelle Alexander and Dennis Hanson stood in for him.

Crowley earlier had told Judge Bruce Spanner that he needed to be in Yakima for another trial.

“We’re disappointed for all three families involved in this. Three young people’s lives were essentially destroyed by this,” Crowley told the Herald on Friday afternoon. “There are a lot of bad feelings out there and a lot of hurt feelings of people who are going to miss their children.”

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531;; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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