A preliminary hearing was held on Wednesday, February 12 for 37-year-old Lisa Snyder, the Pennsylvania mom accused of hanging her two young children to death from a dog lead and trying to pass it off as a murder-suicide perpetrated by her eight-year-old.
Lisa showed no emotion in court, not reacting to any of the damning testimony against her from nearly a dozen witnesses over four hours. She wore a bright yellow prison sweatshirt.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Magisterial District Judge Kim Bagenstose ruled that Lisa Snyder will stand trial in the September 2019 murders of eight-year-old Conner and 4-year-old Brinley. Lisa told investigators at the time that Conner was suicidal as a result of bullying in school and took his sister’s life so he wouldn’t have to go alone. During a two-month investigation, police found no evidence to support her claim, but they found plenty of evidence that led them to suspect she was behind their deaths.
Lisa was arrested on December 2, 2019 and charged with two counts each of first- and third-degree murder in addition to two felony charges of endangering the welfare of children, as well as tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. She has been in Berks County Jail without bail since her arrest, and she has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against her.
The first witness called by Berks County Assistant District Attorney Meg McCallum was Eric Bubbenmoyer, an emergency room nurse at Lehigh Valley Hospital near Allentown who was also a volunteer first responder with the Kempton Fire Company, described his experience on September 23, 2019. He said his pager went off at about 4:30 PM, asking him to respond to a home along Route 143 in Albany Township, where two children were reportedly in cardiac arrest. On the radio in his truck, he heard a dispatcher from the Berks County 911 center communicating that the two children were found hanging in the basement of the home; unable to process what he was hearing, Bubbenmoyer asked the dispatcher several times to repeat the information.
Bubbenmoyer testified that when he and another first responder reached the home, state police had not yet arrived. Lisa Snyder answered the door, appearing “very anxious and nervous, but she wasn’t crying,” and she was distracted by talking on her cell phone. When the two medics proceeded down the narrow basement steps, they found the two children hanging from the rafters to the left of the stairs from nooses fashioned from either end of a purple vinyl-coated dog lead, which had been slung over a support beam. Because the children were still warm, the medics attempted to free them from the nooses; the second medic easily freed Brinley, who was the smaller of the two kids, but Conner was too heavy for Bubbenmoyer to lift on his own, so the two medics lowered the boy to the floor and began CPR on both children.
Trooper Jeffrey A. Hummel from the Hamburg station of the Pennsylvania State Police was the first police officer on the scene, which he described as chaotic, with Lisa and several relatives in front of the house and several people in the kitchen. He described crouching to descend the basement stairs, which the responders determined were too narrow to logistically carry Conner upstairs, as his weight was well above average for his age; Hummel and another trooper instead carried Conner on a stretcher out the bilco door to the waiting ambulance. Hummel became choked up with emotion when asked on the witness stand to identify Conner and Brinley in a photograph of the two live, healthy children.
Lisa’s attorney, Dennis Charles, asked Hummel why he was so upset about the deaths of two kids he didn’t even know.
“I’m human,” was Hummel’s reply.
According to Hummel’s testimony, Lisa told him about Conner being bullied at school, telling him that she had left a message for a guidance counselor at her son’s school but did not receive a return call.
She told Hummel that Conner appeared stressed when he got off the school bus the day of the incident and that when he couldn’t find the charger for his iPad, he asked Lisa if he could borrow the dog lead she had purchased online and picked up from Walmart that very morning, saying he wanted to use it to build a fort in the basement by draping a blanket over it.
Both children were declared brain dead three days after the incident and removed from life support. They died within minutes of each other on September 26. Their autopsies revealed that both children’s deaths were caused by hanging, and the manner of death for both was ruled to be homicide.
Lisa’s 20-year-old cousin, Kimberlyn Watson, claimed during her testimony that she spent a lot of time with the children and had a particularly close relationship with Conner, described him as a “happy kid who loved being around his classmates,” according to WFMZ, and refuted Lisa’s claims that the little boy was either bullied or suicidal.
About a week before the kids were found hanging, Lisa sent a group Facebook message to some members of her family, telling them that Conner was being bullied and had expressed thoughts of suicide, asking for them to “show him some love.”
Kimberlyn picked Conner up at school that day but didn’t notice any signs the little boy was upset. “I said, ‘Are you happy I picked you up?’” Kimberlyn testified. “And he said, ‘Yeah, but I do like riding the bus. I have a lot of friends on the bus.’”
She spent the next few hours with Conner until his mother picked him up from the business owned by Kimberlyn’s family. “He never looked sad that day.”
Kimberlyn, who refused to look in Lisa’s direction at the hearing, has a tattoo of blue and pink butterflies on her right wrist in memory of Conner and Brinley.
A friend of Lisa’s, Jessica Senft, testified about a text message she got from Lisa in early October in which Lisa confessed she “needed to have two strong drinks.” Lisa later visited Jessica’s home, telling her that police had been to the Snyder house multiple times looking for one of Lisa’s cell phones. She was worried, Jessica said, over what investigators would find in online searches performed “under Conner’s account” because she “was looking up how to kill someone.” Jessica also testified that Lisa told her she was thinking about checking herself into a psychiatric hospital for depression and that if she was charged with the children’s murders, she planned to “get out on bail and kill herself.”
Luckily, in Pennsylvania, first-degree murder is a non-bailable offense.
State Trooper Ian Keck testified that police seized one of Lisa’s cell phones, which was issued to her as part of a public assistance program, but they have not recovered a Samsung smartphone belonging to Lisa. Police believe the missing phone contains a great deal of evidence. On the day the children were hanged, Lisa told police she had lost the Samsung phone the day before; a week or so later, she changed her story, saying she had lost the phone over a month earlier.
Internet searches linked to the phone number for Lisa’s missing phone revealed that Lisa had visited a website giving instructions on suicide by hanging with a “short drop, simple suspension.”
During the search of Lisa’s online accounts, police also found something equally shocking: explicit photos Lisa had sent a man in which the family dog performed sex acts on her. She gave the dog away shortly after the children’s deaths. These despicable acts also earned her charges of bestiality and cruelty to animals, which she will also face at trial.
Keck also testified that investigators tried to confirm Lisa’s claims of Conner being bullied and depressed by interviewing staff and students at Greenwich Elementary, but everyone — the principal, the guidance counselor, and students alike — said that Conner was happy and had many friends. Police also viewed school bus security camera footage. Lisa told police that Conner came home the day of the hangings highly distressed, but the video footage showed otherwise, depicting Conner “horsing around” with other kids and smiling and waving as he ran off the bus. Keck testified that there was only one person police could find who said anything about Conner’s alleged bullying, and that was Lisa Snyder herself.
Another professional investigators spoke to was an occupational therapist who worked with Conner. The therapist told police that Conner had a marked lack of dexterity and had trouble tying his shoes; she highly doubted the idea that Conner could have fashioned the nooses used to hang him and his sister.
The hearing was held at the Berks County Courthouse in downtown Reading instead of the judge’s office in Hamburg because of the high-profile nature of the case, which required heightened security due to online death threats made against Lisa. Anyone who entered the courtroom for the hearing, including media, were screened by security staff and required to surrender their cell phones to deputies from the Sheriff’s office.
Lisa is represented by private attorney Dennis Charles, who told the court, “You don’t have any evidence that Lisa Snyder hanged these children.” He said the case against Lisa is based on “speculation and guesswork.”
Lisa’s formal arraignment is scheduled for March 12. Before that date, prosecutors must let the court know whether they plan to seek the death penalty if Lisa is convicted of first-degree murder. No trial date has been set.
Conner and Brinley leave behind an older brother, Owen, who was 17 at the time of their deaths. A GoFundMe has been established to help Owen, who was forced to make a sudden and jarring transition into adulthood when his mother was arrested for the murder of his younger siblings.
Sources: 6ABC, WFMZ, The Reading Eagle, The New York Post, The Morning Call, Facebook, GoFundMe