A Bunker Hill, W.Va., couple on trial for allegedly abusing five children in their custody were portrayed Wednesday in Berkeley County Circuit Court as “the bully and the mean girl” who punched them, hit them with spoons and inflicted other forms of punishment for no apparent reason.
Christina Snyder, 44, was indicted by a Berkeley County grand jury in February 2010 on five felony counts of child abuse causing bodily injury, and Nathan Allen Snyder, 29, was indicted on 13 counts.
“There’s a line between discipline and abuse,” said Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely, telling jurors in her opening statement that “we’re here for abuse.”
In the course of a trial expected to span several days, Games-Neely told the jury that they would hear evidence of how the children feared reporting their mistreatment to school and state child protection officials because the children didn’t think they could escape from it.
The victims told police they were shot at with BBs and bottle rockets, burned with cigarettes, beaten and punched, and one was made to run laps around a gravel road in his bare feet, according to court records.
One of the children had told police he was choked to the point of nearly passing out, and was awakened in the middle of the night and told to go to a neighbor’s house about a mile away to ask for beer and cigarettes, according to court records.
Games-Neely said Wednesday that one child who did report abuse at school was physically abused when she returned home.
The incidents of abuse associated with the pending indictments occurred in 2008 and 2009, but defense attorney Thomas Stanley, who is representing Nathan Snyder, told jurors that the case really started in 2005.
Stanley told the jurors that they heard “a nice story” from Games-Neely and asserted that Nathan Snyder was targeted by Christina Snyder’s former husband after she divorced him while he was in prison.
“None of this stuff happened as the kids say it did,” said Stanley, who told jurors that some of Christina Snyder’s children were coached to come into court and tell a story to help put Nathan Snyder in jail as a form of “payback.”
“The best lies have a kernel of truth in them,” Stanley said.
Christina Snyder’s attorney, Christopher Prezioso, told the jury that his client “strongly disputes” the allegations pending against her, but also emphasized that the cases against her and her husband were separate.
One of the children testified Wednesday that he and his siblings moved multiple times and recounted instances of abuse, including being burned by his mother with a cigarette, becoming sick after Nathan Snyder forced him to drink beer.
The boy, now 16, said he remembered his mother and step-father laughing while they shot at him and his brothers with a BB gun.
The boy said that he and his siblings moved from Capon Bridge, W.Va., where he lived with his great-grandmother, to Augusta in nearby Hampshire County and then to Paw Paw, W.Va., in Morgan County before relocating to Delaware to stay with his maternal grandparents.
He said they ultimately returned to West Virginia, where they lived in Bunker Hill.
The boy recalled food being locked away, forced to fist fight with one of his brothers and struck with a crop or whip used in horse riding.
The boy said he currently resides with his biological father and his girlfriend and confirmed that he is a straight-A student and standout high school athlete.
The boy said he and his siblings told their biological father about how they were being treated after he was released from prison and secured the right to see them on weekends.
The boy testified that he couldn’t remember some details that Games-Neely asked him about in direct examination.
“I tried to forget all this stuff, it’s been going on for so long,” the boy said. “I just remember (the abuse) was always happening.”