MASON CITY | It was smiles and hugs of joy for relatives of Michael Cisneros after a Cerro Gordo County jury found the former Mason City man not guilty of first-degree murder Monday evening.
It took the panel of eight men and four women less than three hours to return the verdict.
Cisneros, 38, was accused of the 1994 murder of 20-month-old John Snyder Jr. of Mason City.
His relatives hugged and thanked defense attorneys Letitia Turner and Steven Kloberdanz following the announcement of the verdict. Family members declined comment Monday, saying they were still trying process the good news.
It is unclear when Cisneros will be released from the Cerro Gordo County Jail. He was in a halfway house in Dubuque when he was arrested on July 13, 2013, and charged with the murder.
He may need to serve additional time since he had not completed that program prior to his arrest, Turner said.
The panel of eight men and four women received the case about 2:30 p.m. Monday following 10 days of testimony spread over three weeks.
Snyder Jr. was reported missing by his father John Snyder Sr. from the family’s apartment in the 00 block of South Adams Avenue on July 20, 1994. The boy’s body was pulled from Willow Creek the next day.
Cisneros was arrested after a DNA match between his DNA profile and blood found on the boy’s pajama bottoms came up on a statewide database.
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“This has been a years’ worth of work for us, too,” said Turner.
“It’s been a long road and we’re at the end and it feels great,” Kloberdanz added.
The defense focused on the actions of Snyder Sr. on the day the boy went missing to try and shift suspicion away from Cisneros.
Snyder testified he smoked marijuana with Cisneros at his apartment in the weeks before his son went missing.
“Folks, I don’t believe they found a connection unless you believe the story you heard from John Snyder,” Kloberdanz said during closing arguments Monday afternoon.
Snyder Sr. was in the courtroom for the reading of the verdict, along with members of his family.
Snyder hung his head as Judge DeDra Schroeder announced the verdict. Another family member could be heard sobbing. Members of the Snyder family declined to speak with the media following the verdict.
“We were disappointed with the verdict but obviously the state does respect the jury’s decision,” said Assistant Iowa Attorney General Douglas Hammerand. "That’s the way our system works. We give them the case and we let them decide."
He said the defense strategy was to make the state prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Obviously we had strong evidence with the DNA evidence and the fact that the defendant knew the location and the cause of death, but the jurors thought otherwise.”