In a Pierre courtroom on Friday, retired State Judge Mark Barnett sentenced Brandon Snodgrass to 100 years in prison for raping the daughter of his then-girlfriend from the time she was 5 until she was 9.
Snodgrass, 36, sat in orange jail stripes and made no statement to the court, but several times shook his head in apparent dispute with comments from the judge and prosecutor.
“This is the biggest sentence I’ve ever given,” Barnett told Snodgrass and the hushed Hughes County courtroom packed with relatives of Snodgrass and of his victim, including her mother, as well as about a dozen law enforcement officers. Barnett retired in March but remained on the case through sentencing.
“Justice has been served,” Roxanne Hammond, Hughes County state’s attorney, told the Capital Journal after Barnett passed sentence and Snodgrass had been led out of the courtroom.
Snodgrass’s attorney, Dave Siebrasse, declined to comment.
Before Barnett sentenced Snodgrass, Hammond made an impassioned argument for Snodgrass to be put in prison for the rest of his life.
“He calls himself a contributing member of society, but he’s only been able to maintain employment for a few months to a year at a time. He has been arrested approximately 21 times since turning 18. He is the statutory definition of a habitual offender.”
Snodgrass took no responsibility for his crimes, Hammond said.
“It’s as though Brandon is writing a fiction book in his head, where he’s the main protagonist and the rest of us are evil henchmen preventing him from success. Except this work of fiction was a little girl’s living hell for four years.”
A jury in Pierre found Snodgrass guilty on May 31 of 12 counts of rape and sexual assault of the girl while he was living with her and her mother. Hammond told the Capital Journal the girl’s courage during the case, including testifying against Snodgrass for hours, inspired her. The two bonded through hours of preparing the case, she said.
Hammond mentioned another personal connection to the case in her argument Friday.
“Brandon mentions that he was abused growing up. Coming from a household of addiction and abuse myself, my sympathy for Brandon in this area is sincere.”
But Snodgrass didn’t learn from his experience of abuse except to pass on the abuse to a child victim, Hammond said.
“For four years Brandon violated, injured, defiled, and humiliated a child. While she was learning how to read and write her name at school during the day, Brandon was raping her when he’d pick her up from school. He was having sex with a child. He did things to her that suck the breath out of the adults who have had to hear her recount that reality for these four years.”
In a short argument before sentencing, Siebrasse told Barnett that “this is the first offense of this type my client has been convicted of . . . so we are asking that (his sentence would be something) so he’s not going to essentially die in prison.”
“He has the support of his family, average to above-average intelligence,” and can do well in treatment and rehabilitation,Siebrasse said.
Snodgrass is hoping to use his skills in auto repair “to open up a shop with his father” at some point, Siebrasse said. “He wants to be a contributing member of society . . . at some date.”
In a presentence investigation done after the trial in May, Snodgrass was asked by court services officials what sentence he thought would be appropriate. According to statements Friday in court, Snodgrass suggested from one year to 10 years.
Hammond said that could mean his victim “wouldn’t even be 18,” before Snodgrass got out of prison.
Hammond said the psychologist hired by the prosecution gave his opinion that “Brandon’s pedophilic interests will likely continue at a high level, indicating that he will have the unfortunate motivation, likely, sexually, emotionally, and socially which will place him at a continued risk to act out inappropriately with a child in a sexual way moving forward.”
She said that while in jail awaiting trial, “Brandon was arrested for solicitation to tamper with a witness, in that he is accused of attempting to solicit harm upon the victim and her mother by means of a fellow inmate. If released, he could very well follow through on those threats.”
Snodgrass’s crimes change the lives of a dozen people who love and care for his victim, Hammond said.
“And he did it well. For years he groomed her, he bullied her, and he kept her quiet both through her love for him and her fear of him. He did it so well (the prosecution) does not believe she was his first victim and she certainly would have been his last, but for the courage of a little girl with the fortitude to tell his secrets.”
Snodgrass’s attorney, Siebrasse, objected to Hammond’s mention of alleged witness tampering, saying there was no evidence given in court about it and the inmate source of the accusations should not be believed.
Judge Barnett told Siebrasse he would not take that alleged incident into account in his sentencing.
Hammond argued that Snodgrass would hurt other children if he had the chance.
“While causing irreparable damage to his victim, he seems to view this case as just a blip on his radar, suggesting he will get out in 1 to 10 years and open (an auto repair) shop with his father. If his case registers so low on his conscience, why wouldn’t he reoffend? He clearly does not grasp nor seem to care about the deep and profound negative impact he has had on his victims’ lives. Brandon groomed and manipulated an intelligent and capable little girl into keeping a horrible secret for four years. As the state mentioned, we do not believe (she) is Brandon’s first victim. But today this court has the ability to ensure she will be his last. And it is for this reason, and the many I’ve listed here today, that that state will be recommending a sentence of life in prison for Brandon Snodgrass.”
Judge Barnett told Snodgrass he was going to give him a “substantial” sentence and said the state Supreme Court directed that a judge should explain such a sentence to a defendant.
He gave an extended review of his reasons that lasted about 45 minutes and seemed to keep the 60 people throughout the courtroom rapt. Hardly a sound was made.
Occasionally a family member patted the shoulder of Snodgrass’s father.
The victim’s mother sat in a front row in the gallery; across the courtroom sat a grandmother of the girl, who was not in the courtroom.
Snodgrass’s parents and siblings and several friends sat together.
Barnett told Snodgrass: “In your (presentence investigation) you complained about how your mother abused you. I saw that as an indication that you tend to see yourself in terms of a victim.”
Barnett said he knows Snodgrass’ father and has heard good things about him from the business where he has worked.
“He’s worked on a couple of my cars. They speak well of him down there. . . So you don’t have that kind of excuse. . . I find no deficit in intelligence . . . No head trauma and you can’t say it was drugs or alcohol. It’s simply how you think . . . And we have learned from a number of studies of sex offenders that pedophiles are the toughest to cure. They have a very high percentage that re-offend . . . So I think your chances of rehabilitation are basically none. I think you will be a risk for the rest of your life.”
Barnett said the psycho-sexual assessment of Snodgrass — done by Dr. Scott Pribyl for the prosecution — informed his sentence.
“I have read a fistful of Dr. Pribyl’s assessments and I have never seen him so adamant that (a defendant) was and always will be a danger to children,” Barnett told Snodgrass.
Barnett told him that beyond the little girl he raped over four years, he has many other victims.
“You put your own family in a terrible spot. Who wants to say, ‘My brother is a child rapist?’”
Mostly he put his child victim in a terrible place, Barnett said, citing information coming from the girl about how often the sexual assaults happened, although only 12 incidents were charged.
“Mr. Siebrasse said this is the first offense of this type. No, this is the first 50 or 100 offenses of this type. (She) sat there and testified, ‘Every day I would come home from school and hope he wouldn’t (rape me) and then he would.’”
Police officers said “you were neither surprised nor upset when they arrested you for this crime,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the evidence showed Snodgrass had a “complete lack of self-awareness. . . you simply do not track with how wrong this behavior is.”
A police investigator “testified that when he came to ask you about (the girl’s accusations in 2017) you said ‘(the girl) and I shower together regularly’ . . . Maybe I’m old-school. But I think most people would be shocked — and the jury was shocked — that a grown man, 32, 33 years old, is showering with a 5-year-old stepdaughter. Who isn’t even your stepdaughter because you weren’t married. She was the daughter of your girlfriend. And (the officer) said, ‘He doesn’t realize how wrong that is.’”
“But I think you were sexualizing her, getting her accustomed to seeing you naked, to provoke her curiosity and maybe get her to touch you.”
(At this point, Snodgrass shook his head, apparently disputing Barnett’s account.)
“It is clear to me that you are sexually obsessed, not only with (the girl) but with sex,” Barnett said.
He mentioned the ottoman in their apartment that served as a storage container with a lid, according to testimony from the girl and her mother.
“And there are countless items in there, variously referred to as sex toys.”
Which they may be, Barnett said, “when you use them on a consenting adult female. But they are sex weapons when they are used by you on 5- or 6-year-old kids.”
“(She) said you hit her when she would refuse you. I believe that. She was a very convincing girl.”
(Here Snodgrass again shakes his head slightly, as if disputing Barnett.)
Barnett transfixed the courtroom in uncomfortable silence as he read a litany of the titles of internet searches found on Snodgrass’s phone or other computer devices, including crude terms describing sexual assaults of all sorts by men on little girls.
“The word ‘stepdaughter’ runs through all your internet searches,” Barnett told him. “And that’s just a sample.”
The evidence, including the “sex toys,” and internet searches “gives me an idea how much your brain has locked on to sex,” Barnett said. “You are possessed by it.”
While he was charged with a dozen instances of sexually assaulting the girl, there are indications, including from interviews with the girl, that Snodgrass assaulted her on a nearly daily basis, so the number could be “50 to 200,” Barnett said.
The only time he didn’t do it was during a stint in state prison for grand theft, Barnett told him.
Judge Barnett gave a rather complicated sentence covering the dozen charges Snodgrass was convicted of that includes two mandatory minimum terms and a string of seven concurrent 10-year terms.
But it adds up to 100 years.
Barnett gave Snodgrass credit for the 333 days he’s spent in the Hughes County Jail since his arrest.
Under the state’s guidelines, based on his criminal record, Snodgrass will be required to serve about 75 percent of the sentence, Hammond estimated.
Barnett told Snodgrass he took no pleasure in handing down such a long sentence which he said was a “tragedy,” for Snodgrass and for his family.
“My hope is that you will learn to live a new life and make the best of it you can,” Barnett said. “But I want that child to go through the rest of her life knowing you will never harm or hurt anyone ever again, including her.”
As he stood and turned to leave the courtroom, Snodgrass glanced to where his family and friends were sitting, touched a handcuffed hand to his mouth and blew them a kiss.
Before he imposed the sentence, Barnett warned those in the gallery that any outburst over the sentence, pro or con, could mean jail time.
After a jury convicted him after about 2.5 hours of deliberation on May 31, a sister of Snodgrass sobbed loudly and seemingly out of control in the courthouse hallway for several minutes.
On Friday, the courtroom remained relatively quiet except for the same sister sobbing rather quietly after the sentence.
Hughes County Sheriff Darin Johnson told the gallery of about 43 seated in the wooden pews to remain in their seats for several minutes while Snodgrass was escorted out of the courtroom and courthouse back to the jail and law officers left.
About a dozen law enforcement officers from several agencies, including about three deputy U.S. marshals and agents from the state Division of Criminal Investigation, Pierre police, including Chief Jason Jones, sheriff’s deputies and jail officers, stood or sat throughout the courtroom for the hour-long hearing.
Sheriff Johnson said he just wanted to make sure there was plenty of security if needed.