South Carolina’s parole board – unanimously and without a word of discussion – denied parole Wednesday to Edward Cronell of Rock Hill for the 1990 rape and murder of 22-year-old teacher assistant Melinda Snyder.
It was a crime that paralyzed York County’s women for three years while the killer, suspected but not arrested, roamed uncaught.
It is a crime that 24 years later still tears apart Snyder’s parents.
The decision was not unexpected. Convicted predators who rape and kill rarely get out of prison on their first try at parole. Some never get out.
Cronell, 48, a real estate agent, used his access to lock box keys to enter Snyder’s home, rape her and put a bullet in her head.
The only reason he even had a shot at parole is that state law in 1990 – when the crime happened – allowed convicted killers parole eligibility after 20 years in prison. Cronell was convicted in May 1994.
Jerry Snyder admitted his daughter’s brutal death at the hands of Cronell the predator destroyed his family.
“This guy will rape and kill again,” he told the parole board. “Don’t let him do it.”
York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant investigated Snyder’s death for three years before the state Supreme Court – in a landmark 1993 ruling – forced Cronell to give a DNA sample that linked him to the crime.
Cronell was “the most dangerous man I have ever seen” in more than 180 murder investigations, Bryant told the parole board.
It took the six present members the parole board exactly three seconds to each vote “No.”
Cronell appeared at the hearing via teleconference from Lee Correctional Institution – the Bishopville prison where he has been for nearly all of the past 20 years. The parole board and the Snyder’s family and others who opposed Cronell’s parole met at the headquarters for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services in Columbia.
When he appeared on screen, Cronell smiled and said he is a gardener at the prison. He talked with pride of making thousands of dollars for charities in plant sales with his horticultural designs. Cronell apparently found his calling as a floral designer, saying that if released, he would move to New York, live with an aunt and make bouquets.
Cronell said he was sorry that Snyder’s family had to go through the parole hearing and that he wanted to meet them.
But the board was having none of Cronell’s plea for release, because he could not or would not say why he raped and killed Snyder – even though he’s had 20 years in prison to think about it.
Cronell said he feels “awful” for what he did to Snyder in 1990, but he had no answer when parole board members asked why he did it.
“I have no idea,” Cronell said. “I could do another 20 years, I just don’t know.”
Parole board member Norris Ashford then asked: “Why would we set you free if you don’t know why you did this?”
Cronell said nothing more. He offered no explanation. He expressed no remorse beyond saying he felt “awful.”
Nobody else came to the hearing to argue the Cronell should be freed. No family. No prison preacher. Nobody.
Then it was the Snyder family’s turn to argue against parole, and for the police and more to say that Cronell would be a danger to society if released.
Cronell attacked Snyder after a drunken night of debauchery at a party, Bryant said. Drunk, sexually spurned, Cronell took out his frustrations on Snyder. He was suspected of breaking into the homes of other women after Snyder was killed.
“I do not want this man back on the streets of York County,” Bryant told the board.
Longtime prominent Rock Hill defense lawyer Jim Morton, now a candidate for Circuit Court judge, was a former federal prosecutor in 1994 when he helped prosecutors put Cronell away. He made it clear that Cronell should never be released.
Jerry Snyder and his wife, Geretha, said Cronell should stay in prison to protect others.
“You can’t let this happen to another person or family,” Jerry Snyder told the board, showing them a photo of his smiling daughter taken just before she was killed.
Days later, she was raped and killed in her own bed, struggling and powerless.
Cronell gets another chance at freedom in two years. If he fails that time, he gets another chance two years later. And so on. Even though he was sentenced to two life terms, plus 30 years.
After the hearing, Jerry and Geretha Snyder said nothing will bring their daughter back. They will fight Cronell’s parole attempts as long as they live. The rape and killing cost Snyder his job, tore his family to shreds, and most of all, took away his daughter’s chance at a family of her own – and happiness.
“Until I die, I will do anything I can to keep this monster in prison,” Jerry Snyder said.
Snyder said he would meet with Cronell, as Cronell had asked, to ask why he did what he did.
His wife said no way.
“I have no interest in ever talking to that man,” she said.
Then the couple – who moved to Ohio more than 25 years ago – got into their car for the 10-hour drive to the house outside Cincinnati where they keep their daughter’s photos on the wall and her memory alive.
They will wait two more years and come back to South Carolina to try to make sure Edward Cronell – who raped and killed their daughter but won’t say why – dies in a prison.