Ex-wife of recently pardoned man, an American Legion official, said she ‘lived with fear every day’
‘I wasn’t even considered’ when governor, attorney general voted to approve the pardon in September
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts presided over the Nebraska Board of Pardons hearing in September. The board includes Secretary of State Bob Evnen (foreground) and Attorney General Doug Peterson (Jazari Kual/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — The former wife of a man recently pardoned for violently sexually assaulting her 29 years ago is speaking out for the first time and telling a much different story than what was presented last month to the Nebraska Board of Pardons.
Jody Snogren said that her then-estranged husband, John Arias, drove to her home in Ogallala on April 30, 1993, armed with a large hunting knife and parachute cord. Along with him were the couple’s two young sons, ages 5 and 7, and a buddy of theirs.
Without thinking, she opened the door.
“He had that knife out and he was pushing me toward that bedroom,” Snogren said. “I yelled my oldest son’s name.”
Young son ‘couldn’t help me’
“I’m not sure what that did to him, because he couldn’t help me.”
She said that after what seemed like hours of repeated assaults, Arias fled with the kids to Texas, leaving her behind, tied, gagged and broken.
Snogren, now 57, divorced and living in Grant in southwest Nebraska, said that after learning of her ex-husband’s pardon through a story in the Nebraska Examiner, she decided, after speaking with her two sons, that it was time to speak out.
“He does not have the right to hold the pen that writes my story,” she said. “And that’s what he’s been doing for a very long time.”
“Had he been honest and walked in there and said, ‘I committed a horrible, violent crime and I’m sorry,’ that would be a wholly different story,” she said.
“But no violent offender who did what he did deserves a pardon,” Snogren said.
Calls and emails seeking a response from Arias went unanswered this week.
Arias, now 57, living in Grand Island and working as a mobile home park manager, served 14 years in prison after pleading guilty in a plea bargain to first-degree sexual assault. Five other felony charges and one misdemeanor were dropped, including use of a weapon to commit a felony, terroristic threats and false imprisonment.
He told the Nebraska Pardons Board that he wanted a pardon because he had lived a productive life since leaving prison. He said that he had been harassed and deemed unfit for higher office in the American Legion because of his past sex offense, which led to a “lifetime” listing on the public Sex Offense Registry maintained by the State Patrol. He has served as a district vice commander for the Legion, as a “Legion Riders” organizer and on a national veterans rehabilitation committee.
Can’t take back actions
“I know that I can never take back my words and actions on the night of April 30, 1993,” Arias wrote in his official request for a pardon. “But I hope that I can put this behind me and be able to live a life without the stigma.”
Snogren, who had opposed Arias’ early release from prison on parole, said her former husband has never offered remorse to her for what he did.
She said he has done the opposite, by “sticking it to me” when something bad happened in her life, telling her “she deserved it.”
Snogren said she was particularly upset that, as a victim of a violent crime, she wasn’t notified of the Pardons Board hearing in September and given an opportunity to submit testimony.
A spokeswoman for the Pardons Board said state statutes require victims of serious crimes to inform the local county attorney if they want to be notified of such hearings, and the board had no record of that in this case.
Snogren said she was unaware of the requirement.
Vote was 2-1 for pardon
The Pardons Board voted 2-1 to grant Arias a pardon, which is an official forgiveness for a crime. A pardon does not remove a crime from state records.
But a pardon does restore Arias’ gun and voting rights. Arias stated that he primarily wanted a pardon so his name would be removed from the state’s Sex Offender Registry (which was done recently).
A pardon, he told the board members, would allow him to pursue higher leadership positions within the American Legion and remove the “stigma” of being on the registry. Arias said he has been harassed over his listing and been required to obtain pre-approval to visit school grounds.
Other Legion members upset
The decision to pardon Arias sparked a group to schedule a protest rally this Friday at the State Capitol. They object, in large part, to the fact that several members of the American Legion, including the current state commander, supported Arias at the Pardons Board meeting.
They criticized Legion members, who filled two rows in the hearing room, for wearing their signature caps at a non-Legion event and for not informing all Legion members beforehand that a show of support was planned.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, the chairman of the board, and Attorney General Doug Peterson both voted in favor of the pardon.
Secretary of State Bob Evnen, the third member of the board, voted “no” to a pardon, stating that he didn’t think Arias had “fully come to grips what happened that night and what you did.”
“This is a really serious charge,” Evnen said.
Peterson said the request was on the “bubble,” between granting a pardon and not.
“We historically have taken these types of criminal acts, like sexual assault and child abuse, very seriously,” the attorney general said.
“You don’t deny it?” Peterson asked.
“I plead guilty,” Arias responded.
“You forced her to have sex,” the attorney general said.
“I’m not calling her a liar,” Arias said.
“I understand what you’re saying,” he added at one point. “I destroyed several lives that night, mine included.”
When Ricketts asked Arias if he had received treatment for PTSD, Arias responded “no,” but said that he had participated in a group of veterans in prison that shared their experiences with it.
Anger problem no longer
“Well, sir, I don’t have an anger problem anymore,” responded Arias. “The guys at work now say I’m the most laid-back person they know.”
In response to a question, he said that he had once written a letter of apology to his wife from jail but that his jailers refused to mail it.
Peterson said it was laudable that Arias had served his time in prison, had immediately gotten a job and had been active in helping other veterans through the American Legion. He is also a mentor coordinator for a new veterans treatment court that serves as an alternative to prison for criminal offenders in central Nebraska.
Military service, Legion support noted
The attorney general said that Arias’ service, in the military and after, convinced him to support the pardon.
Prior to voting, all three members of the Pardons Board noted Arias’ service in the Marine Corps and the support he was getting from the Legion members in the hearing room.
Later, after the protest rally was announced, Ricketts defended his vote for the pardon, saying that Arias had “accepted responsibility for the crime” and “has shown to be remorseful.” The governor also noted Arias’ work with other veterans who suffer from PTSD.
After criticism arose, Don Suchy, the current state commander of the American Legion, defended the support given by fellow Legion member. He said Arias had been a “model citizen” since leaving prison who had been a “key advocate” for the Veterans Treatment Court and for discouraging others from committing repeat crimes.
“Since his release, he has sought only to better himself to society,” Suchy said.
Abuse began before military service
Snogren said her ex-husband began abusing her about a year after they were married in 1985, which was long before he enlisted in the Marines and was sent to battle.
There are cycles of abuse, she said, and there were times when the marriage was working out. But Snogren said her husband made it “very clear” that if she left him, there would be violent consequences.
“I lived with fear every day,” she said.
She gasped when told of the story that Arias gave to the Pardons Board about the sexual assault — that the couple had argued and that his anger had gotten the best of him because she told him he couldn’t have the boys that weekend.
“I pushed her on the bed, I was cussing her out. … I threatened to kill her if she took my sons away,” Arias testified. “I said, ‘I’m going to see my sons whether you like it or not.’ “
“She started to take her clothes off,” he said. “‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘I know what you want.’ … We had sex.”
Couldn’t control anger
Arias admitted to the Pardons Board that he couldn’t control his anger that night, but he also said that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder prior to the sex assault trial and that PTSD had affected his relationship with his wife and, ultimately, destroyed his marriage.
Snogren said that since learning of her ex-husband’s pardon, the trauma of the assault has returned.
“My PTSD has kicked back in. I’m going around making sure all my windows are locked,” she said, crying.
“I don’t want to be in the dark. I’m now super vigilant again, like it happened yesterday.”
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