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Victim's parents favor hanging

No compassion' for suspect in death in S. Korea

Sunday, March 03, 2002

By Milan Simonich and Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

The parents of slain University of Pittsburgh student Jamie Lynn Penich won't be satisfied until her accused killer is hanged.

Sue Sherback, left, the grandmother of Jamie Lynn Penich, finishes reading a statement to reporters. Behind are Penich's sister, Jenell; father, Brian, and mother, Patricia. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

Brian and Patricia Penich said they will support extradition of Kenzi Noris Elizabeth Snider to South Korea, where she could face death by hanging if convicted. Even if Snider is not convicted or sentenced to death, they said, she would be imprisoned in a system that does not separate men and women, where cells are not heated and where inmates sleep on mats.

"We have absolutely no compassion for her," Patricia Penich said at a news conference yesterday near the family's home in Derry, Westmoreland County.

"We won't have closure until she's swinging from the gallows. We want her to die the same way as Jamie."

Jamie Penich, 21, was killed March 17, in Seoul, South Korea. A student at Keimyung University in Taegu, she took a break from her studies and went to the capital with other Americans to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

While in Seoul, Penich was beaten to death in her hotel room. Snider, a Marshall University student from West Virginia who also was studying in South Korea, told police that she and Penich had spent the night drinking at bars frequented by American soldiers.

For months, Korean National Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Army investigators focused their investigation on soldiers. But their attention shifted to Snider, and in early February they interviewed her in Huntington, W.Va.

Snider confessed, according to court records, claiming that Penich had come on to her sexually and that she had responded by knocking Penich into a bathtub, pulling her out of the bathroom and stomping on her.

Penich's family said they were shocked and angered by Snider's account.

"Kenzi took Jamie's life," said Penich's maternal grandmother Sue Sherback. "Now she continues to take from her with these accusations and lies."

Family members said it was ludicrous that Penich engaged in sexual play with a woman. They believe Snider initiated the sexual encounter and became enraged when Penich spurned her.

They noted that Snider is not credible because she led authorities to believe that a soldier was responsible. She continued the deception by calling and e-mailing members of the Penich family, as well as Penich's fiancee, Jeff Gretz of Greensburg.

"She said Jamie was a real nice girl and she liked being with her," Penich's father said. That conversation took place a few weeks after the killing, he said.

Patricia Penich said she had reservations about Snider because her account of the evening didn't make sense. Still, she was shocked when Snider was arrested because she thought police were looking for a soldier.

She also thinks that her daughter's hotel roommate must know more about the killing. The room they shared was tiny and the walls were thin, she said, yet the roommate said she slept through the attack.

Penich's parents had no qualms about their daughter traveling to exotic locales. The 1997 Derry Area High School graduate studied in Belgium as an exchange student during her senior year.

For long as they can remember, their daughter surrounded herself with maps and globes and National Geographic magazines. She loved to study languages.

"This is what Jamie wanted to do," her mother said. "She wanted to travel the world."

She carried a heavy subject load at Pitt, with a double major in cultural anthropology and religious studies, a minor in Korean, and worked toward a certificate in East Asian studies. She would have graduated this month.

She paid for her semester in South Korea by working as a child-care worker through Pitt's work-study program and as a hostess at Valhalla Restaurant in Pittsburgh.

She told her grandfather, Charles J. Penich of Derry, that she hoped to become a university professor.

"She said she was going to make me proud," he said.

Snider's arrest was the talk of the Marshall campus yesterday in Huntington.

Everyone Snider met seemed to like her. An honor student and a Lions Club volunteer on community service projects, she maneuvered easily between the worlds of students and adults.

Snider developed a circle of friends at Marshall that was so tight, said Dale Robertson, a 20-year-old technology major from Princeton, W.Va., that he considered her "family."

He said Snider was so outgoing and gregarious that her list of acquaintances seemed endless.

"She'd walk across the campus and know everybody. It could be intimidating being around her," Robertson said.

After Penich's death, the group followed the case closely. Robertson said he and the others wanted the case solved for two reasons: They believed it would provide peace of mind to Snider, who they knew was a witness, and also would help the Penich family better endure its loss.

"Now we're in shock," Robertson said. "We had no idea in the beginning why Kenzi was picked up [by FBI agents]."

He and four other close friends of hers attended a court proceeding for Snider on Friday. Only then did they learn she stood accused of the slaying and, according to the U.S. attorney, already had confessed.

"I know anything is possible," Robertson said. "I'm in such shock that I don't know what to say beyond that."

Until dropping out this semester, Snider had been studying elementary education at the state school of 14,000 students. Her previous home was in St. Cloud, Minn.

Even on so large a campus, Snider made an impression.

"She was a joy to work with," said Janet Drozier, an assistant professor in the education college. "She was always well-prepared. She asked insightful questions."

Snider's dropping out coincided with FBI agents and Korean investigators focusing on her as the suspect in Penich's death. Even so,she continued to live on Huntington's south side, where she had an apartment in an old red-brick building. Acquaintances said she never let on that she was under duress.

Bill Burns, the real estate agent who rented the unit to her last July, said she was "a fantastic tenant." She paid her rent on time and took good care of the apartment.

Burns said he saw Snider only a day or so before her arrest. He described her as cheerful and courteous, words acquaintances frequently used when talking about Snider.

"She looks like the all-American girl, and she was a pleasure to deal with," Burns said. "I'm shocked because she's the last person in the world you'd think would be accused of something like this."

Marshall is a rarity among universities because it has a Lions Club that participates in community charitable events. A focus for Marshall's chapter was to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House in Huntington that provides lodging for relatives of chronically ill children.

Snider was part of that volunteer effort. Her interest in the program seemed to fit with her larger goal of becoming a teacher.

Now she is being held in Charleston, W.Va., at the South Central Regional Jail.

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