On March 18, 2001, Jamie Penich—an American exchange student in South Korea—was brutally murdered in her motel room after a night of partying with friends from the program. Her bloodied nude body was found on the floor. She was stomped to death. Her face was covered with a black fleece jacket.
Kenzi Snider, a 19 year-old student from Marshall University, in West Virginia, was one of the friends Jamie was with. About a half dozen exchange students had traveled from campus into the city, where they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in a bar filled with locals and US soldiers. Korean police and army investigators were unable to solve this horrific crime.
One year later, in February 2002, FBI agents contacted Kenzi out of the blue. She was back in school in West Virginia. They wanted to talk—alone. She met with three agents on three consecutive days for several hours.
The sessions were grueling. When it was done, Kenzi had confessed. She murdered her friend, she said, in the context of a drunken sexual encounter.
Kenzi was promptly arrested, incarcerated in a local jail for ten months, and extradited to Korea to stand trial. There, she then spent another six months in jail. Then a panel of judges found her not guilty. The prosecutor appealed the verdict but months later an appeals court confirmed: Not guilty. In 2006, five years after the crime, in response to yet another appeal, the Supreme Court of Korea once again affirmed: NOT GUILTY.
This was eighteen years ago. Today we know a whole lot more than we did then about false confessions. Kenzi Snider has been fully acquitted in court. Yet her confession haunts her—and leads some people still to question her actual innocence.
Jason Flom is joined by Kenzi Snider, renowned psychologist Saul Kassin best known for his groundbreaking work on false confessions, and his student Patty Sanchez. Sanchez is currently studying the effect of podcasts and media influence on the outcome of legal cases.