CHARLESTON, West Virginia – A woman 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.
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 and Penich were among seven exchange students in 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. 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.
But Snider's lawsuit said FBI agents focused on Snider as their primary suspect after creating 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."
Snider was arrested by FBI agents in February 2002 and sent to Seoul in December of that year. A Seoul District Court acquitted her in June 2003, and South Korea's highest court upheld the ruling in January 2006.
"Other than the coerced false confession, no evidence was developed or introduced tying Ms. Snider to the murder," the lawsuit says. "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."
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages of at least $75,000 and unspecified punitive damages. Named as defendants in the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court are the FBI, agents Marc DiVittis and Seung Lee and Army Criminal Investigation Agent Mark F. Mansfield.