CLAYTON • Elizabeth Snyder said she forgave Trenton Forster for killing her husband, a St. Louis County police officer and father of a young son, in 2016.
“But that doesn’t mean I forget,” Snyder said in court Thursday. “I will never forget what he has taken away from me and my son. I want (Forster) to remember what he has done and I want him to remember Blake’s face every day of his life.”
Then, Circuit Judge Kristine Kerr sentenced Forster, 20, of south St. Louis County, to life in prison without parole plus 27 more years. A jury in February found him guilty of charges of murdering St. Louis County police Officer Blake Snyder and shooting at Snyder’s partner, Officer John Becker.
Because prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, life without parole was the mandatory sentence on the first-degree murder conviction. Kerr added 27 years to that term for the other counts.
Kerr quoted author Mark Twain toward the start of the sentencing hearing Thursday, saying, “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
“The same is true for those who appear before the court in criminal cases,” Kerr said. “The faces change, the facts vary, but the rhythm of harm, loss and sorrow repeats itself, over and over and over. It does so today.”
Forster shot and killed Snyder Oct. 6, 2016, when the officer responded to a disturbance call in the 10700 block of Arno Drive. Prosecutors said Forster was suicidal, angry and high on drugs when he killed Snyder. Forster’s defense attorneys conceded that he had killed the officer, but presented a “diminished capacity” defense that Forster was incapable of committing premeditated murder because of his history of mental illness.
Jurors rejected that defense in finding Forster guilty of first-degree murder after a few hours of deliberation.
Relatives of Snyder spoke during the sentencing hearing Thursday, describing his compassion on and off duty.
“I am shattered to the core,” Blake Snyder’s mother, Peggy Snyder, said in court. “Our lives will never be the same. His murder was senseless. That morning he could have been the one to solve the problem — the one to make a difference.”
Peggy Snyder spoke of holding her son the day he was born and the bond he had with his older brother, Adam Snyder, now 39.
“They were buddies,” she said of her sons. “From the moment their eyes locked, I could see a bond between them.”
She also spoke of how Blake Snyder often tried to assuage her fears about the dangers of police work. She said she missed receiving his texts before or after shift, saying that he loved her.
“I can still hear his voice telling me over and over, ‘Don’t worry, it’s OK, Mom. I got this. It’ll be OK,’” she said.
Elizabeth Snyder, whose son was 2 years old when his father was killed, told Forster that she forgave him, “Blake forgave him and that God forgives him.” But she said her family will always live with what Forster did.
Forster apologized to the family in court, saying that while he wasn’t showing a lot of emotion, “I’m sorry for what I did.” But he also sounded defiant and said he was angry about what he said prosecutors were doing to him.
“I’m not just a piece of (expletive),” he said. “I have a family.”
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said after Thursday’s sentencing they wouldn’t respond to Forster’s criticism, instead stressing their sympathy to Snyder’s family.
“Blake Snyder was killed for wearing a badge,” Belmar said.
Bell said he thought justice was served in the trial.
“We will not forget Officer Snyder,” Bell said. “He gave his life doing his job in what was a senseless act, and all St. Louis County residents owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Snyder’s parents told reporters after the sentencing that they’re still consumed with grief and struggle with whether justice was served.
“There’s a murderer who’s still alive, and I visit my son at his grave,” Peggy Snyder said. “People don’t realize that behind that badge and when they take that shirt and that equipment off, that they have a life. ... I think for us that’s one important thing that we’ll continue to strive for people to understand that just because they put the badge on, they’re not the enemy. They’re the ones striving to make the difference.”
“We don’t feel the burden lifted right now,” said his father, Dick Snyder. “We still feel it, even though in a sense it’s finished, it’s not finished for us for a while.”
They said Snyder’s memory will be preserved in a $1.3 million youth center now under construction at the River of Life Family Church in Alton, where he served as youth pastor. It will be called the Snyder Center and will serve at-risk youths.