Kirk Snyder: A life unraveled

Published December 19, 2009 6:02 pm

After earning nearly $6.7 million as an NBA player, Snyder could face 18 years behind bars.
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The alleged attack happened March 30 among the red brick and white columns of the Beacon Hill Townhomes, a development so new it's not easily found on maps of this town that bills itself as "Cincinnati's Top Suburb."

At 3:36 a.m., former Jazz first-round draft pick Kirk Snyder allegedly broke into the home of his neighbors, Bradley and Eugenia Roberts, and beat a sleeping Bradley with both his fists and an alarm clock, according to police reports.

The assault was as violent as it was brief. Snyder allegedly fled the home minutes later as Eugenia Roberts came to her husband's aid. Police quickly identified him and arrested him at gunpoint, then booked him into the Warren County Jail in bloodstained clothes.

"There's parts of the county that this is common," Warren County assistant prosecutor Matt Nolan said, "but in that subdivision, I can't remember another case coming out of it of this nature."

The same could almost be said about Synder's strange, sad tale. An impossibly gifted athlete, he was the No. 16 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, taken ahead of players such as Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Jameer Nelson, Kevin Martin, Anderson Varejao and Trevor Ariza . Snyder earned nearly $6.7 million in his career.

But not even two years since his last NBA game with the Minnesota Timberwolves, his life has unraveled. He is receiving treatment at the Summit Behavioral Health Center in Cincinnati and could face up to 18 years in prison in connection with the attack.

"I feel bad for the guy," said one executive of a team for which Snyder played, whom The Tribune granted anonymity to so he could speak freely. "He's just disturbed and that's clear."

Snyder, 26, has been charged in Warren County Court in the nearby town of Lebanon with aggravated burglary, felonious assault and misdemeanor assault.

Freed on $100,000 bail after a summer in which he was first ruled incompetent but later found capable of standing trial, Snyder was rearrested Nov. 23 after allegedly cutting off his electronic monitoring device and attempting to flee.

Snyder was believed to be off his medication at the time of the new arrest. He had taken off his clothes in an attempt to burn them. "In a case like this where he's clearly a danger to himself and others, it kind of freaks everybody out," Nolan said.

The mental health issues for which Snyder is being treated remain unclear. His agent, Chris Emens, declined to comment on specifics, beyond saying, "Right now, he's getting the help that he needs so that he can resume his pro career and deal with his wife and children."

Snyder's attorney, Hal Arenstein, has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Arenstein did not return repeated messages in recent weeks. Before Snyder was rearrested, his wife, Haley, said in a brief conversation that her husband was doing better: "He's looking forward to his career now and this is a little bump in the road."

Efforts to reach Snyder were unsuccessful. He was home in Bethel, Ohio, southeast of Cincinnati when The Tribune contacted his wife last month, but the Snyders declined an interview request. Snyder's trial is set for Feb. 25 to 26 before Warren County Common Pleas Judge Neal Bronson.

At his previous NBA stops, meanwhile, Snyder is remembered as both a prodigious talent and an often erratic personality. Snyder played for four teams in four seasons -- Utah, New Orleans, Houston and Minnesota. He was traded three times.

"It's not surprising just because you knew the potential was always there for him to do something really crazy," said one former staffer of a team for which Snyder played, whom The Tribune agreed not to identify.

"Kind of the same way you're never shocked when Mike Tyson does anything. You say, 'OK, that makes sense.' But you feel bad because he's a good guy at heart."

Talented, but immature

The Jazz never questioned the talent that led them to use their second of three first-round picks in 2004 on Snyder. As a junior, Snyder helped lead Nevada to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 and was the Western Athletic Conference's Player of the Year.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor declined to comment on Snyder, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound guard who played one season in Utah before the Jazz traded him to New Orleans as part of a five-team, 13-player deal that returned Greg Ostertag to the Jazz.

"I had a few bumps in the road with him, but he seemed to bounce back," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I don't think he was pleased with what we were doing here. He wanted to start and he was always wanting to get more playing time, which young guys do.

"I didn't have a problem with that, but he was pretty adamant sometimes about wanting to play more and I had to make a decision based on what I thought was best for the team."

Although the team regarded Snyder as immature, introverted and inconsistent, he also was never late for a practice. He met regularly with a sports psychologist -- as do all Jazz rookies -- and raised no red flags.

However, Snyder was part of two well-publicized incidents during his lone season in Utah. In the first, Sloan benched him for a game after he dunked the ball and taunted the Rockets' bench in a March 2005 game.

Only a few weeks later, Snyder brawled with Jerry Stackhouse on the way to the bus after a game in Dallas. The NBA suspended both players for one game for their actions.

"He always been kind of strange, a little bit," Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "Strange in a way like he always feel like he know what he's doing on the floor. Not like rookie, but like veteran player he was acting like. That's kind of strange for young guys that's coming to the league."

Asked about Snyder's situation now, Sloan said: "Mental health is something that's very difficult to understand and be able to work with. I just hope that he gets healthy and gets the right kind of treatment to make him healthy."

Snyder enjoyed his best season after he was traded to the Hornets, starting 45 of 68 games, averaging eight points per game and authoring one of the signature moments of their first relocated season in Oklahoma City with a ferocious dunk on Lakers guard Von Wafer.

Traded to Houston in July 2006, Snyder played a full season with the Rockets as well as part of a second before he was traded to Minnesota. He started 18 games for the Timberwolves in 2007-08, but was not re-signed and played last season for a Chinese team.

Much like Snyder's former Jazz teammates, his former Wolves teammates have kept up with his case.

"I just feel bad for the whole situation because he didn't seem like he was that type of guy when he was playing with us," said Ryan Gomes, who played in the summers with Snyder, sat next to him on flights and went to dinner with him on the road.

"Everyone plays with a little bit of an edge," Gomes added, "and you could tell he played with a big edge."

Asked if Snyder ever appeared erratic, Minnesota center Al Jefferson said: "Nothing more that you don't see every day with guys. You think a lot of guys are kind of off in this league. He didn't show nothing different."

In a world of his own

An NBA general manager said Snyder ranked among the top 15 percent of players in the league based on athletic ability alone, comparing favorably with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady.

Too often, though, Snyder seemed to be in a world of his own. While Snyder was with the Hornets, team officials had a saying -- "That's No. 1 for you," referring to Snyder's jersey number -- when his behavior turned idiosyncratic.

"Nine times out of 10 you'd walk away thinking nothing was wrong with him," said the former staffer on one Snyder's teams. But the staffer added: "Some of the things he'd say, we'd shake our heads like, 'Whoa. What planet is he on?'"

At one of his NBA stops, Snyder approached a staffer after he had been interviewed by a short male reporter and declared that he couldn't be around "midgets."

"At first I thought he was joking," the staffer said, "and he was dead serious."

Snyder is known to have had outbursts directed at executives and assistant coaches with at least two former teams. He asked for leave from the Rockets in late December 2007, citing a serious family medical situation that the team never has been able to verify actually existed.

At least one of his former teams encouraged Snyder to talk with a psychiatrist, but learned after Snyder left that he never followed through. Snyder's representatives allege no negligence, but one general manager said, "If we knew then what we know now, we probably should have done something more."

As much emphasis as the NBA and its teams put on player development programs, the general manager noted, "Players are under tremendous pressure not to admit they have problems."

More questions than answers

Two months before trial, Snyder's case raises more questions than answers. At the time of the alleged attack, Snyder lived five doors down from the Robertses, having bought his townhouse for $375,000 in October 2008, according to property records.

Bradley Roberts is a 55-year-old dentist, according to police reports. Although he and his wife had met Snyder in the neighborhood, prosecutors said nothing in particular prompted Snyder to shatter a rear window and break into their house in the middle of the night.

Both Bradley and Eugenia Roberts declined interview requests about the alleged assault.

Snyder also is accused of two other attacks -- occurring March 31 and April 30 -- on fellow inmates while in the Warren County Jail. He faces a misdemeanor assault charge in Lebanon Municipal Court in connection with each.

"Dude hit me in the mouth," inmate Robert Padgett said in a report on the alleged April 30 assault. "He asked 'bout why I'm here. I told him and he hit me. That's it."

Snyder was ruled incompetent to stand trial May 27 and committed to Summit Behavioral for the first time. He was ordered to be forcibly fed and medicated, having rejected all attempts in jail such that he twice had to be hospitalized, according to court documents.

Judge Bronson ruled that forced medication and nutrition were the "least intrusive method remaining" in an attempt to restore Snyder to competency. Three months later, Snyder was found to be restored and was released on $25,000 bail Aug. 24. His bond was then amended over the objections of both the prosecution and victims to allow Snyder to play for a Chinese team this season.

The deal fell through, however, and Snyder remained in the Cincinnati area before he was rearrested. As secondary as his basketball career might seem, Snyder's supporters see it as bringing stability and structure to his life, in addition to providing for his family.

While it seems unlikely that Snyder would face 18 years in prison, the aggravated burglary charge is a first-degree felony, which brings a mandatory prison term if convicted. Snyder's actions since the alleged attack could increase the severity of a sentence.

"All of these factors would weigh against him in the sentencing phase," Nolan said.

Questions also remain about whether Snyder will go to trial pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, a defense more often seen in the movies than actual courtrooms. Arenstein originally entered the plea April 15.

"He seemed to know what he was doing at that time, and that's really all that's required," Nolan said. "Being found not guilty by reason of insanity is very difficult. Not being able to help your attorney, being incompetent for those purposes, that happens not often, but more often."

As little as is known about what happened to Snyder and the demons he is battling, the only thing left from his life in the Beacon Hill Townhomes is a For Sale sign. His former home is now on the market.

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Kirk Snyder timeline

March 30 » Accused of breaking into neighbors' home at 3:36 a.m. and beating man with his fists and an alarm clock before fleeing. Snyder was arrested at gunpoint and now faces aggravated burglary, felonious assault and misdemeanor assault charges in connection with the incident.

March 31 » Accused of assaulting an inmate at the Warren County Jail. Originally pleaded guilty and received 60-day sentence, but revoked plea and now faces one misdemeanor assault charge in connection.

April 15 » Attorney Hal Arenstein files suggestion that Snyder is incompetent to comprehend the charges against him. Arenstein also enters plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for Snyder.

April 20 » Accused of assaulting a second inmate at the Warren County Jail. Faces one misdemeanor assault charge in connection.

May 27 » Judge Neal Bronson orders Snyder committed to Summit Behavioral Health Center in Cincinnati and forcibly fed and medicated in an attempt to restore competency.

Aug. 24 » Snyder is found to be restored to competency, freed on $25,000 bond and ordered to stay out of Warren County except for court and mental health appointments.

Oct. 8 » Snyder's attorneys ask to amend his bond requirements to allow him to play for a Chinese team while awaiting trial. Prosecutors raise concerns about Snyder taking his prescribed medication while out of the country.

Oct. 22 » Judge Bronson rules that Snyder's bond can be raised to $100,000, allowing him to play in China, returning to Ohio no later than April 20, 2010.

Nov. 23 » After cutting off his electronic monitoring device, Snyder is rearrested and his bond is revoked. He is returned to Summit Behavioral.

Nov. 30 » Arenstein files suggestion that Snyder is incompetent to stand trial.

Feb. 25-26 » Snyder is scheduled for a two-day jury trial in which he faces a maximum of 18 years in prison if convicted of all charges. Snyder faces a mandatory prison sentence if convicted of the first-degree felony aggravated burglary, according to prosecutors.



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