The ex-wife of a recently pardoned man, an American Legion officer, said she “lived with fear every day”.

LINCOLN — The former wife of a man who was recently pardoned for violently sexually assaulting her 29 years ago speaks for the first time and tells a very different story than what was presented to the Nebraska Parolees Board last month.

Jody Snogren said her then-estranged husband, John Arias, drove to their Ogallala home on April 30, 1993, armed with a large hunting knife and a parachute line. With him were the couple’s two young sons aged 5 and 7 and a pal of theirs.

Without thinking, she opened the door.

“He had the knife out and pushed me into this bedroom,” Snogren said. “I was screaming my eldest son’s name.”

Little Son ‘Couldn’t Help Me’

“I am I’m not sure what that did to him because he couldn’t help me.”

She said that after what appeared to be hours of repeated attacks, Arias fled to Texas with the children, leaving them bound, gagged and broken.

Snogren, now 57, divorced and living in Grant, southwest Nebraska, said after learning about her ex-husband’s pardon through a story in the Nebraska Examiner, after speaking with their two sons, she decided it was on it was time to speak up.

“HHe doesn’t have the right to hold the pen that’s writing my story,” she said. “And he’s been doing that for a very long time.”

No mercy

“Had he been honest and come in there and said, ‘I committed a horrific, violent crime and I’m sorry,’ that would be a whole different story,” she said.

But no violent offender who did what he did deserves a pardon,” Snogren said.

Calls and emails seeking a response from Arias went unanswered this week.

Arias, now 57, lives on Grand Island and works as a mobile home park manager. He was serving 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree sexual assault charges in a plea deal. Five other felony charges and one misdemeanor charge were dropped, including using a weapon to commit a crime, making terrorist threats and deprivation of liberty.

John Arias, a volunteer mentor coordinator, was recently featured in the Grand Island Independent as part of a story about a veterans’ treatment court being established in central Nebraska.
(Courtesy of the Nebraska Department of Justice)

He told the Nebraska Pardons Board that he wanted a pardon because he had lived a productive life since his release from prison. He said he was harassed for his previous sex offenses and found unfit for senior office in the American Legion, resulting in a “lifetime” listing on the State Patrol’s public sex offenses registry. He served as district vice commander for the Legion, Legion Riders organizer and on a national veterans rehabilitation committee.

Actions cannot be undone

“I know I can never take back my words and actions on the night of April 30, 1993,” Arias wrote in his official pardon. “But I hope to move on from that and live a life without the stigma.”

Snogren, who opposed Arias’ parole release from prison, said her ex-husband never showed her remorse for what he did.

She said he did the opposite by “holding it on me” when something bad happened in her life, telling her “she deserved it.”

Snogren said she was particularly upset that, as a victim of a violent crime, she was not informed of September’s parole board hearing and was not given an opportunity to testify.

A spokeswoman for the Parolees Committee said state law requires victims of serious crimes to notify the local district attorney if they wish to be informed of such hearings, and the committee had no record of doing so in this case.

Snogren said she was unaware of the requirement.

Vote was 2-1 for pardon

The Pardons Board voted 2-1 to grant Arias a pardon, which is an official forgiveness for a crime. A pardon does not remove a crime from the state records.

But a pardon restores Arias’ weapon and voting rights. Arias explained that what he wanted first and foremost was a pardon so that his name would be removed from the state’s sex offender registry (which happened recently).

A pardon, he told board members, would allow him to hold senior leadership positions within the American Legion and remove the “stigma” of registration. Arias said he was harassed for being listed and needed to obtain pre-authorization to visit school grounds.

Angered other Legion members

The decision to pardon Arias sparked a group to plan a protest Rally this Friday at the State Capitol. They largely object to the fact that several members of the American Legion, including the current State Commander, assisted Arias in the parole board meeting.

They criticized Legion members, who filled two rows in the hearing room, for wearing their distinctive caps at a non-Legion event and for not informing all Legion members in advance that a demonstration of support was planned.

Governor Pete Ricketts, the chairman of the board, and Attorney General Doug Peterson both voted in favor of the pardon.

Secretary of State Robert Evnen
Secretary of State Robert Evnen (Courtesy Office of the Nebraska Secretary of State)

Secretary of State Bob Evnen, the third board member, voted “no” to a pardon and said he did not believe Arias “fully understand what happened that night and what you did.”

“It’s a really serious charge,” Evnen said.

Peterson said the request was on the “bubble” between pardon and non-grant.

“We have taken these types of criminal acts, such as sexual assault and child molestation, very seriously in the past,” the attorney general said.

“You’re not denying it?” Peterson asked.

“I plead guilty,” Arias replied.

“They forced her to have sex,” the attorney general said.

“I’m not calling her a liar,” Arias said.

Attorney General Doug Peterson
Doug Peterson, Attorney General of Nebraska
(Paul Hammel/Nebraska examiner)

“I see what you’re saying,” he added at one point. “I destroyed several lives that night, including mine.”

When Ricketts asked Arias if he had been treated for PTSD, Arias replied “no,” but said he attended a group of in-prison veterans who shared their experiences with it.

anger problem no more

“Well sir, I don’t have an anger problem anymore,” Arias replied. “The guys at work are now saying I’m the most laid back person they know.”

In response to a question, he said that he once wrote an apology letter to his wife from prison, but that his prison guards refused to send it.

Peterson said it was commendable that Arias served his time in prison, got a job immediately, and was actively involved in helping other veterans through the American Legion. He is also the mentor coordinator for a new Veterans Treatment Court, serving as an alternative to prison for offenders in central Nebraska.

Military service, Legion support noted

The Attorney General said that Arias’ service in the military and thereafter convinced him to support the pardon.

Before the vote, all three members of the Parolees Committee noted Arias’ service in the Marine Corps and the support he received from Legion members in the hearing room.

Later, after the protest rally was announced, Ricketts defended his vote for the pardon, saying Arias had “accepted responsibility for the crime” and “showed remorse”. The governor also mentioned Arias’ work with other veterans suffering from PTSD.

After criticism arose, Don Suchy, the current State Commander of the American Legion, defended the support given by another Legion member. He said Arias has been a “model citizen” since his release from prison, having been a “key advocate” for the Veterans Treatment Court and discouraging others from repeatedly committing crimes.

“Since his release, he’s just been trying to better himself for society,” Suchy said.

The abuse began before military service

Snogren said her ex-husband began abusing her about a year after their marriage in 1985, well before he enlisted in the Marines and was sent into battle.

There are cycles of abuse, she said, and there have been times when the marriage worked. But Snogren said her husband made it “very clear” there would be violent consequences if she left him.

“I lived with fear every day,” she said.

She gasped when she learned the story Arias told the sexual assault parole board – that the couple had argued and that his anger had overcome him for telling him he couldn’t have the boys that weekend .

“I pushed her onto the bed, I cursed her. … I threatened to kill her if she took my sons from me,” Arias testified. “I said, ‘I will see my sons whether you like it or not.” “

She started undressing,” he said. “‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘I know what you want.’ … We had sex.”

couldn’t control anger

Arias admitted to the parole board that he couldn’t control his anger that night, but he also said that before his sexual assault trial he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that PTSD had affected his relationship with his wife and, eventually destroyed his marriage.

Snogren said since learning of her ex-husband’s pardon, the trauma of the attack has returned.

“My post-traumatic stress disorder has come back. I go around and make sure all my windows are locked,” she said, crying.

“I don’t want to grope in the dark. I’m super alert now like it happened yesterday.”

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