Juvenile Justice

80 to Life: Sentencing Tedi Snyder – UPDATED


Tedi Snyder will be sentenced today, Friday, in division 120 on the 13th floor
of the criminal courts building, Judge Sam Ohta presiding.

He is expected to receive 80 to life. That means he will be 95 when his first possible parole date rolls around.

The Youth Justice Coalition will hold a press conference outside the court building to protest the long sentences like Tedi’s that are being handed out to juveniles with increasing abandon.

(Much of the information I have on the case came from Kim McGill, YJC’s remarkable founder.)

UPDATE: The judge had a personal emergency on Friday morning so the sentencing hearing has been postponed until August.

However also on Friday, Lily Burk’s kidnapper and killer, Charlie Samuel, pleaded guilty to the crime in order to avoid a possible death sentence. He was accordingly sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

This means that Tedi Snyder—convicted of a non-lethal gang-related shooting that occurred before he was old enough to be eligible to get a driver’s license, —is likely to get a sentence that is only slightly less severe than that given to a 50-year-old parolee with a previous violent conviction, who has admitted to kidnapping, beating and murdering a 17-year-old high school girl, whom he abducted in order to rob.

Okay, now back to our story.

Tedi Snyder was 15-years old when he was involved in the gang shooting for which he will be sentenced today in adult court. Thankfully no one was killed as a result of the shooting.

But they could have been.

Prior to the shooting, Tedi ran afoul of the law once. He stole something. The judge felt that he was an otherwise good kid, so gave him probation and required that he stay in school. Tedi did stay in school. But he also became involved with a local gang.

Much of his growing involvement had to the do with the fact that, when he was thirteen, he saw a close friend shot dead right in front of him in a gang-related incident. The next year, when Tedi was fourteen, another close friend was shot and killed in the gang mess that seemed to be everpresent in Tedi’s LA neighborhood.

A year after that, Tedi himself was shot in the head. It was unclear for a while if he would live. But he did live. A few months later, the trauma-ridden disaffected boy was shot one more time, this time in the hand.

The very next day he participated in a shooting of his own. I don’t know alll of the circumstances. I also don’t know for sure if Tedi was the shooter. I presume he was. But perhaps he just participated. Either role could get him this sentence. I do know that, whoever held the gun was, fortunately, not a good shot. One of the intended victims, members of a rival gang, was shot in the foot. Or maybe it was the ankle.

It took four years for Tedi’s case to make it’s way through the court system. (So much for a speedy trial.) When the verdict was handed down, he was nearly 20 years old.

The jury found Tedi guilty of attempted murder. Then the prosecutor piled on whatever “enhancements” he could, which lengthened the sentence—as is usual with LA gang cases.

Of course, since the recent Supreme Court ruling that juveniles who don’t kill anybody can’t be given life without parole, prosecutors can get nearly the same result with a sentence of, say, 80 years.

No one is arguing that the Tedi Snyders of the world must be held accountable for their actions
. After all, with just a little bit of bad luck, some other kid might have died the day of the shooting in question. We could have tried him as a juvenile and thrown the book at him, keeping him locked until he’s 25.

But do we really want to put Tedi Snyder in prison for what amounts to the rest of his life for what he did as a traumatized, disaffected, angry fool of a 15-year-old?

Or should would we be wise to find a way to see his crime in a context of emotional distress, PTSD and the stupidity of youth?

The worst thing about this upcoming sentencing, among a number of “worst things” is that Tedi Snyder’s case is by no means unusual. It is simply the one I happened to hear about this week.

Below you’ll find the letter that Tedi’s father has written to Judge Ohta. It is obviously a letter from a grieving parent, and therefore I make no pretense of its objectivity, nor do I know anything about the family, or where the dad was when all these years of shooting was going on. But the parent’s heartbreak the letter portrays is undeniable—-and worth your time.

Before we get to the dad’s letter, however, one small detour: I must admit it feels like an unhappy irony that the couple who killed USC student Adrianna Bachan last year in a hit and run case were also sentenced this week. If you remember, the woman driver blew through a red light, hit Adrianna and also hit her friend, Marcus Garfinkle, who was struck with such force his body lodged halfway inside the car’s windshield. The couple together yanked Garfinkle out of the windshield, injuring him further and pushed his body to the street, then took off.

The driver and the passenger were sentenced to 8 and 7 years respectively.

Okay, here’s the letter from Ted Sr.

Honorable Sam Ohta
Judge, L.A. County Superior Court
210 West Temple Street
13th Floor, Division 120
Los Angeles, CA

Re: Theodore Snyder, Jr.

Dear Judge Ohta:

I am urging the court, the office of the District Attorney and all of Los Angeles to consider the case of my son, Theodore Snyder, who will be sentenced today to 80 years to Life in a case where no one was killed. He was 15 years old when he was arrested, and has spent the last four, long years in juvenile hall and County jail going back and forth to court. This experience has taught me a lot about the myths of justice in America – including the myths of a speedy trial, a jury of your peers and “innocent until proven guilty.”

During my adult life, all I ever wanted was to have a son. It took me 47 years to get Tedi, and I can’t bear to think that he will have only 15 years with me.

Like all fathers, every time I see my son, I realize all the love and hope and promise for the future that I carry in my heart. When I hear him laugh, I realize how much the world gives us joy. When he dreams, his vision for himself, and our family and the community, lifts my spirits. When he expresses his thoughts on the world’s events, as he often does, I am reminded how quickly he is becoming an honorable and good man.

I have much to be proud of. In school, my son has received outstanding grades, graduated high school and is seen by the entire staff as a leader. He excels in writing and reciting poetry. He is active in church, and is much beloved by both the Chaplains and lay volunteers. He is admired by both his peers and teachers. At a recent BBQ, he made sure all youth and parents there ate before taking the last half of a hamburger for himself. He has mediated fights and squashed rumors between Black and Brown youth, and between rival neighborhoods.

Yet, he has reached all these accomplishments from behind bars. For nearly three years, while going back and forth to court, he has been detained at one of the nation’s most secure and notorious juvenile halls – “the compound” at Sylmar, where nearly 250 youth are locked up while being tried in adult court. For the past year, he has survived the degradation, violence, overcrowding and disease of County jail. During that time, he has shared all his gifts within concrete and steel. When he breathes fresh air, it is from a small yard overshadowed by razor wire and security gates. When the sun hits his face, he is most often shackled at wrists and ankles, hobbling from the Sheriff’s bus into court. At the end of 2009, the unimaginable happened – my son was found guilty on all counts of attempted murder.

In South Central Los Angeles, as in many poor, urban communities, our children grow up in war zones. My son was shot in the head and nearly died just two months before his arrest, so I also feel for all the parents who have buried their children or who push children in wheel chairs. But, we are also burying thousands of children alive in prison – sentencing 13 and 14 and 15 year-olds to 35, 50, 100 years to life, and for some youth at 16 or 17, to life without the Possibility of Parole. I don’t expect you to understand what I am feeling, or what any of the families with children in similar circumstances are experiencing.

All I ask is that you consider reviewing the extreme sentences that Tedi and other youth are receiving. You might say, as you did at last time we were at court, that as a judge under California law have no discretion in this decision regarding his sentence. But, I pray that you look not into California penal code, not into the court transcripts or into the eyes of the District Attorney, but look instead into your own heart, and provide a different option than throwing Tedi’s entire life away. Even if it means that you as a judge risk punishment from the system, your conscience must be a higher law than that of California. As Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King and many others have taught us, an unjust law must be broken. I say this not only for Tedi, but for the thousands of youth in our nation serving Life Without Parole and other extreme Life sentences.

Youth must be held accountable for their actions. But all youth deserve a fair trail, adequate defense, and just sentencing. All youth must be recognized as victims of violence and neglect, before they ever practiced violence or neglected others. I believe that the boy who shot Tedi is also a victim of this same cycle. All youth deserve the consideration that who they were at 15 is not who they are at 19, and definitely not who they are at 30. I know you understand that people can change, that people can repair the harm they cause, and that everyone can give back to their communities.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, Theodore Snyder, Sr.


  • I am very glad that we the people (a three-word phrase that apparently dosn’t ring a bell for Celeste) will be spared the future mayhem that surely would have flowed from this gang thug. His youth only means that, but for Judge Ohta, he would have been granted more years to visit misery upon the lives of the innocent. This is not a happy choice but it is a necessary one.

  • And by the way, it may be understandable that the father of this young criminal would ask that the judge “look not into the California penal code….but instead into your own heart” when sentencing his son….But Celeste: Is that really what you would want our criminal justice system to become–judges who ignore the laws that the legislature enacts and instead look “into their own heart” for guidance? Aren’t we a nation of laws and not men? Don’t we believe in equal justice under that law–one standard for all? How about if a right-wing zealot on the bench were to look into his own heart instead of the penal code and refuse to punish vigalantes who target and terrorize illegals, because that’s what his heart commands? As I say, the father’s misplaced sentiments are understandable in this case; your apparent support of them is outrageous and hypocritical.

  • For the record, Winny, as I made clear in my post, I didn’t either support or dispute what the father said. I merely empathized with his anguish. AND I specifically issued disclaimers to make sure that there was no misunderstanding.

    Also, FYI, during the sentencing phase of any trial, it’s different than any other moment in the legal process and the rules that govern what may be said at sentencing are also different. At this one time it is perfectly permissible—and common—for people to speak or write in behalf of either the defendant in a case or for the victims of a crime, and to ask for either more leniency or for a harsher sentence than the law allows.

    It is then up to the judge to do what he or she believes to be right as a sworn officer of the court.

    As for my own point of view, as should have been clear for quite some time, I believe that we try way too many juveniles as adults and that neither public safety nor the public good are well served by doing so. I also believe that the gang enhancements are being used so broadly that they amount to prosecutorial overkill if not out-and-out abuse. However, I’m looking for systemic change, not for some single judge to deviate from the law.

  • With all due respect, you’re wrong–what criminals and their amen corner typically ask a judge to grant at sentencing is leniency WITHIN the law–that is, a minumum sentence, or a sentence at a congenial facility, or probabtion if it is an option under the guidelines….that sort of thing. What this father is requesting, in his supercilious way, is really quite extraordinary. He is asking the judge to violate his oath, to ignore the law, to make up his own rules. When judges start doing that, we can kiss the American legal system goodbye. We will be a nation whose courts are star chambers, governed by the whims and biases of people in black robes. Anything goes. Inequal justice under law.

    You can issue all the disclaimers you want, but by commending this outrageous letter to our attention, you implicitly endorse it. This is what you typically do on this site: You reserve your sympathy for the guilty, your disregard for their victims….and their FUTURE victims, for as sure as the sun rises and sets, this kid will visit misery on so many others unless he is incarcerated for many, many years.

    In one sense, it says something wonderful about you that you can find compassion for such a wretched soul. But your compassion is not only misplaced, it is dangerously misplaced. Showing leniency to this thug might seem the caring thing to do, but it shows a spectacular LACK of uncaring for his next victim….someone who is riding the bus home right now, or attending an ESL class, or reporting to their second job, or maybe not even born yet….someone you will never know or even see, Celeste…but someone whose life will be ruined by this criminal if we allow misplaced compassion to trump sound judgment.

    The father’s letter should have been an apology.

  • I agree with the thoughts and comments of Mr. Snyder and Ms. Feemon. Our systems are broken. Money is being spent on criminalizing children and parents with little or no assitance or ateention given to cleaning up the neighborhoods where these families have had to survive. As Americans we all need to make our voices heard. In L.A. County, the Board of Supervisors is responsible for appropriately funding programs to address public needs. Contact Mark Ridley Thomas, Michael Antonovich, and your local Supervisors and make your voice heard about the need for change.

  • I saw the posters concerning the scheduled sentencing next week.

    Two questions for Tedi’s daddy:

    1. Why didn’t make sure Tedi was at home instead of running with the gangs?

    2. You protest the lack of a swift trial. Who delayed the trial? Bet it was Tedi’s defense lawyers.

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