An elderly Benson man has been released from the county jail to await trial early next year on charges he committed murder back in June when he drove into a man who was jaywalking across a busy state highway.

James A. Snyder had been in the Cochise County jail since his arrest at the scene of what was then an aggravated DUI investigation with injuries. He was indicted by a county grand jury the next week on second degree murder, manslaughter, and DUI after Stephan Arthur Griswold died of those injuries.

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But since then, Snyder’s court-appointed attorney has learned much more about the circumstances which led to the death of Griswold, 56. As a result, Judge Jason Lindstrom recently dropped the $25,000 bail order for Snyder, who turns 75 next month.

In its place, Lindstrom ordered Snyder’s pretrial release to a third party custodian subject to adherence with several conditions. Those include GPS monitoring and continuous monitoring of Snyder’s blood alcohol concentration.

There is no dispute that Snyder was at the wheel of a Mini Cooper that struck Griswold shortly before 7 p.m. on June 14 or that Snyder had just been drinking at the Eagles Club in Benson. The key questions now are whether Snyder could have avoided striking Griswold even if Snyder had not been intoxicated at the time.

And whether a jury would convict the remorseful retired mechanist and Vietnam veteran in light of witness statements, the accident reconstruction report, and information on why Griswold was walking in a traffic lane near a busy State Route 80 intersection in downtown Benson.

A few minutes before Snyder drove westbound on SR80 at Patagonia Street, Griswold and another driver had been in their own car crash at that intersection. After moving their vehicles out of the roadway, Griswold and the other driver began crossing the highway on foot, far from a crosswalk, and in front of oncoming traffic.

After hitting Griswold, Snyder told officers he was blinded by the setting sun as he drove westbound through the intersection on a green light. His statement about the blinding sun glare was corroborated by the driver of the car immediately behind Snyder.

Court records show several witnesses reported Snyder was driving within the speed limit, but a DPS trooper noticed the smell of alcohol on Snyder and conducted a field sobriety test. A breathalyzer recorded a .154 blood alcohol concentration, although results of a post-arrest blood draw have not been revealed in court.

What was not publicly disclosed when Snyder was arrested were details about the accident Griswold was involved in minutes earlier. Many of those details are now revealed in court filings by the Cochise County Office of the Legal Advocate in support of getting Snyder out of jail pending his trial.

Legal Advocate Sochi Orozco argued to Lindstrom that Snyder was unable to post a $25,000 bond “due to his financial condition” and that court rules allowed for a modification of Snyder’s conditions of pretrial release.

Several issues favored release without bond in the case, Orozco argued, including Snyder’s 22-year residency in Arizona (20 years in Benson), his lack of prior felony convictions, his character and mental condition, and his low risk of flight to avoid prosecution.

The motion to modify also pointed to Griswold’s autopsy conducted by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner. The autopsy report notes blood drawn from Griswold at the hospital revealed a high level of methamphetamine as well as the presence of Delta-9 THC, which is the principle psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.

Several other positive toxicological levels were detected -including fentanyl, lorazepam, and midazolam- but the autopsy report does not indicate whether some or all of those results stemmed from the emergency medical care given to Griswold.

But perhaps the strongest argument Orozco made in support of pretrial release goes to the heart of the charges against Snyder.

According to the motion to modify, the accident Griswold was involved with minutes about the same time Snyder left the Eagles Club. It occurred as Griswold drove southbound through the same SR80 – Patagonia intersection and was “t-boned” by a westbound vehicle.

The westbound driver told investigators “the glare of the setting sun made it nearly impossible for him to determine exactly what color his light was,” Orozco wrote.

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