In 1985, two separate indictments were returned against Harold Grant Snowden, a 38-year-old South Miami police officer, on charges of molesting children who were at his wife’s in-house day care program.
The charges against Snowden came during a wave of child sex abuse hysteria that swept through the country in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some (but not all) of these cases included allegations of satanic rituals. Many focused on day care centers.
Nationally, there have been dozens of exonerations in child sex abuse hysteria cases.
In one case, Snowden was charged with four counts of sexual battery on a girl under the age of 11. In the other case, he was accused of molesting three other children under the age of four.
At trial in the first case, the girl said he had assaulted her with his fingers and his penis. Snowden, a highly-decorated officer once named officer of the year, was acquitted after proving that the girl had never been at his wife’s day care center.
In March 1987, he went on trial in the second case. Three children, the oldest of whom was six at the time of the trial, testified they had been abused. The only physical evidence presented was that one of the children had been treated for an ailment which can be transmitted sexually, but also by other means.
The prosecution called an expert witness, Dr. Simon Miranda, who testified that he had interviewed 1,000 children about child abuse and that 995 of them told the truth.
On March 7, 1987, the jury convicted Snowden of five counts of child abuse after deliberating for an hour and 15 minutes. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison with combined mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years.
Over the next several years, Snowden appealed his convictions, arguing that new evidence nationally had shown that the child sex abuse hysteria was primarily the product of suggestive interview techniques which produced false claims of abuse. He alleged those coercive methods had resulted in false allegations against him.
The convictions were upheld by the Third District Court of Appeal of Florida in 1989 and the Florida Supreme Court declined to review the case.
In 1993, Snowden filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus alleging several constitutional errors at his trial, including the destruction of evidence by the prosecution, allowing adults to testify about the child-victims’ hearsay statements, and the improper admission of expert testimony that the prosecution used to bolster the victims’ credibility. The petition was denied. The district court held that the admission of Dr. Miranda’s expert testimony, though a violation of state law, was harmless.
But in February 1998 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned his conviction. The court found that the admission of the Miranda’s testimony that 99.5 percent of children interviewed about child abuse told the truth was improper.
The court held that permitting Miranda to “vouch forcefully for the children’s credibility” was a critical error of constitutional dimension. The court ordered a new trial.
Snowden was released on bond on March 27, 1998. The prosecution dismissed the charges on November 22, 1998.
– Maurice Possley