Scarborough author crusades for convicted soldier

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SCARBOROUGH — On a chilly day late last March, author Don Snyder got a call from a phone number he did not recognize.

Thinking it might be a fan who had somehow found his number and was calling to to talk about one of his novels, Snyder answered, reluctantly.

The caller, a woman named Anna Lorance from Oklahoma, had called to praise Snyder – on behalf of her son, Clint Lorance, 29, who had read Snyder’s nonfiction book, “A Soldier’s Disgrace,” about the only soldier court-martialed and convicted of trading secrets with the enemy during the Korean War.

Clint Lorance couldn’t make the call himself, because he was in a cell at the U.S. Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was serving 20 years.

Anna Lorance offered to send Snyder the transcript of her son’s court-martial. Soon thereafter, Snyder, very intrigued, planned a trip to Leavenworth to meet Lorance in person.

After meeting three times during the initial trip, Snyder was so compelled by the case, he became personally invested in seeking clemency for Lorance.

“I was instantly impressed,” Snyder said on Monday at his home on Rhonda Drive in Scarborough. “He was honorable, intelligent, soft-spoken … he was the kind of son I wished I could’ve been for my father.”

Snyder is a proclaimed skeptic of war, even after growing up among passionate veterans like his father and his uncle, who fought with Gen. George S. Patton in World War II. 

Lorance grew up in a single-parent family with his mother, and, as a result, was forced into maturity at a young age. In many ways, Snyder said, “from a young age, he held his family together.”

When Lorance, a first lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, arrived in Afghanistan and “saw the Taliban terrorizing women, it was intensely personal for him,” Snyder said.

In 2012, two days prior to the event that sent Lorance to prison, he had joined a new platoon. This particular group of soldiers, Snyder said, had become disillusioned with the war and their reason for fighting. 

Lorance, frustrated with their temperament, attempted to galvanize their spirits in the short time he was with them, Snyder said. 

One the third night with his new platoon, Lorance ordered three Afghan men driving motorcycles toward his platoon to stop.

When they did not stop, Lorance ordered fire on the men, killing two and wounding the third. 

Lorance was later found guilty of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. 

For Snyder, as he learned the complexities of the case, Lorance’s story resonated on a personal level, but it also began to take on a larger purpose.

“It was only after living with this for 10 months that I realized this was a much larger story,” Snyder said. 

Snyder is now intent upon telling Lorance’s story, because he believes it represents a shift in the country’s perception of what it means to go to war.

Snyder attributes the following statistics to this shift: Lorance is one of 231 soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been convicted of crimes committed during warfare. 

In comparison, only two soldiers were convicted of crimes in the entirety of World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War. One of them, Lt. William Calley, who ordered the notorious My Lai massacre in Vietnam, was eventually pardoned by President Richard Nixon.

In Lorance’s case, it was discovered in December that the three men killed were among eight who had been directly involved in terrorist attacks against the United States, Snyder said.

“When the Army decides to crucify someone, they look for someone who’s already built a cross,” Snyder said. 

More than a year and a half after Lorance was sent to prison, his attorneys, Capt. John Carr and Lt. Col. John Maher, with the help of Snyder and the United American Patriots, filed an appeal for clemency.

The plea cited “30 improprieties in the (Army’s) investigation and court-martial,” and claimed that Lorance had been denied due process because of undisclosed evidence during the trial, Snyder said.

The plea was rejected on New Year’s Eve. Snyder spoke with Lorance on the phone that evening. 

“I’ll never forget what he said: ‘If I have to do my 20 years here, I will, but if I had not taken action, I would have been in a different type of prison for the rest of my life,'” Snyder said.

As a last resort, at the beginning of January, Snyder initiated a White House petition requesting that President Barack Obama grant clemency to Lorance. 

A total of 100,000 signatures are needed by Feb. 1. When the petition was three weeks old, the number of signatures surpassed 105,000.

“We’ve counted people from every state,” Snyder said. “I think (Obama) will pardon Clint, and I’ll believe that until the end of his presidency.”

If Lorance is granted a hearing, the appeals process is likely to begin in 60-90 days, Snyder said.

Snyder has also begun working on an original screenplay to tell Lorance’s story. He hopes to finish the first draft by the end of February. 

“Is it fair to send our sons and daughters to fight in a war zone, who get punished by rules of engagement in a place that has none?” Snyder said.

“I know one thing, when I visited him in that prison and he walked away, I am haunted. It changes you, and I can’t let go.”

 Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.