SCARBOROUGH — From his home on Rhonda Drive, author Don Snyder has worked diligently for the last two years to free Clint Lorance from the U.S. Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Snyder, 65, was contacted out of the blue in March 2013 by Lorance’s mother, Anna Lorance, who told him her son had read Snyder’s first nonfiction book, “A Soldier’s Disgrace” while sitting in his prison cell. Published in 1987, the book tells the story of the only soldier to be court-martialed and convicted of trading secrets during the Korean War.
Anna Lorance called from Oklahoma to share Clint’s story with Snyder – and offered Snyder the transcript of her son’s own court-martial.
Snyder learned that Lorance had, at 27, been a first lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army while serving in Afghanistan.
Two days after Lorance had joined a new platoon in August 2012, he ordered three Afghan men driving motorcycles toward U.S. soldiers to stop. They kept coming, and Lorance ordered the men to be fired upon, killing two and wounding the third, who was captured and found to have bomb residue on his hands, Snyder said.
Lorance was court-martialed a year later in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He was the first American soldier ever convicted of murder without firing his weapon, Snyder said Tuesday, a year after he began looking into the case.
Not much has changed regarding Lorance’s status, but Snyder and Lorance’s legal team believe their quest for a new trial may be over by spring.
Stories of war and soldiers appeared early in Snyder’s writing career, which includes 10 books and a handful of screenplays. Often grappling with his own skepticism about war, complicated by growing up in the shadow of impassioned veterans like his father, as well as his uncle, who fought under Gen. George S. Patton in World War II, Snyder was intrigued by Lorance’s story.
Soon after that initial phone call from Lorance’s mother, Snyder’s friend, Dick McDermott, encouraged him to travel to Leavenworth and meet Lorance in person.
“Dick paid for my train ticket from Maine to Leavenworth, Kansas,” Snyder said Tuesday, “and then he paid my expenses to go to Texas to meet Clint’s mother.”
When Snyder first met Lorance, he recalled that not only was he “instantly impressed,” but that “he was the kind of son I wished I could’ve been for my father … honorable, intelligent, soft-spoken.”
Snyder, because of McDermott’s initial funding, helped put Lorance in touch with two attorneys, Capt. John Carr and Lt. Col. John Maher who, with help from Snyder and the United American Patriots, filed for clemency in 2013. That request was rejected on New Year’s Eve that year.
Last January, Snyder initiated a White House petition urging President Obama to pardon Lorance. One hundred thousand signatures were needed and, by the time the petition closed in February, nearly 125,000 people had signed.
While the petition helped bring national – even international – attention to Lorance’s situation, so far it has solicited “no response at all” from the White House, Snyder said.
In the last year, Carr and Maher have also discovered that the two men killed by Lorance’s order to fire were part of a larger Taliban network and not simply “innocent Afghan civilians,” as they were referred to during Lorance’s trial, Snyder said.
Wielding this new-found information, the attorneys filed an appeal for a new trial through the Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Belvoir, Virginia.
While they wait to hear when Lorance might receive a new trial, law students from the University of Chicago are working on their own petition for Lorance’s pardon, Snyder said.
“If you were to ask if I believed the appeal will bring about justice for Clint, my answer is no,” Snyder said Tuesday morning. “I believe that Clint’s best chance is President Obama.”
Carr and Maher’s efforts are being documented by the Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker Paul Pawlowski, who is a former student of Snyder’s, after Snyder introduced him to the story last September. “In my mind, it was all meant to be,” Snyder said.
Lorance, who is now 30, has been in prison for 28 months. He and Snyder talk on the phone about once every 10 days, and they often write long letters to each another.
Last month, Snyder wrote in an email, six U.S. serviceman were killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle – a situation very similar to what Lorance could have experienced had he not ordered fire, Snyder said. “It is possible that no one fired upon the motorcycle out of fear that they, too, might end up in Leavenworth prison,” he said.
Snyder said in an email Monday that Lorance is “not bitter” about being in prison, and that he doesn’t regret his decision to order fire. “He believes he did the right thing … he was trying to protect his soldiers,” and that, had he not given he order he did and risked harm to his platoon, “then he would have been in a different kind of prison for the rest of his life,” Snyder said.
Lorance often talks about what he plans to do after he’s released, Snyder said.
“In all the letters I receive from Clint,” he said, “he tells me he that when he is finally released from prison, he is going to go to law school and then dedicate his life (to) fighting for justice for those who cannot fight for themselves.”