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Victims' families see life term as way to expel killer from their lives

Life over the past 13 months since her son was gunned down while photographing a moonrise has been "hell," Sy Snarr said Wednesday evening, a few hours after his killer pleaded guilty to the murder.

Zachary Snarr and his close friend, Yvette Rodier, both 18 at the time, were shot Aug. 29 last year while photographing a full moon rising over Dimple Dell Reservoir.Faced with the death penalty, Jorge "George" Benvenuto pleaded guilty Wednesday in 3rd District Court to murder, opting to face life in prison without parole instead of a possible death sentence.

Snarr was shot several times in the head with a .44 magnum handgun and died at the scene. Rodier was wounded, one shot grazing her skull and others hitting her in the shoulder and leg.

Prosecutor Robert Stott from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office said he made a plea bargain offer to Benvenuto and defense attorney James Valdez a few days before Wednesday's court hearing, scheduled to hear motions in what was going forward as a death penalty case.

"We made them an offer. We'd consulted with the family (of the victims), and they said they were comfortable with it," Stott said.

Benvenuto pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, in the killing of Snarr. He also pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder, also a first-degree felony, for shooting Rodier.

Benvenuto balked once at the bargain, backing away from it in a morning hearing. But he returned to court Wednesday afternoon and entered his guilty plea. Benvenuto did not make a statement at the hearing.

Judge Anne Stirba told Benvenuto she could still impose the death penalty at his Nov. 12 sentencing since he pleaded to the count as charged. But she also said she will abide by the agreement and sentence him to life without parole.

"It's been a frustrating year. The last 13 months have been hell, quite frankly," said Sy Snarr.

"But I came to the realization that I wanted a resolution on this, even before it was offered to us.

"Don't mistake me, I still believe he deserves the death penalty for what he (Benvenuto) did up there that night. I've never wavered in that belief," she said.

"But killing him won't bring Zach back, and even if a jury gave him a death sentence, we'd be looking at 11 or 12 years of appeals. If his death would bring Zach back, I'd stay with it. But it won't," Sy Snarr said.

"We don't want a trial to turn him (Benvenuto) into a victim. It would then be all about his rights. What about Zach's rights? That would be forgotten," she said. "Zach had a right to go up there and photograph the moon rising. That would be forgotten. And we want Zach to have the dignity he deserves."

Sy Snarr said by agreeing to the life without parole sentence, the family and Yvette Rodier will never again have to face Benvenuto or worry about him.

"Yvette will never have to see him again or face him in court. We'll never have to fight to keep him in prison or worry about when he might get out and what he might do," Sy Snarr said.

"It was cold-blooded, it was premeditated and he (Benvenuto) deserves to die. But where he's going for the rest of his life, it will not be a picnic."

"We feel, no, we know, that Zach would want this, to not have Yvette have to go through this again. We know this is what Zach wants," she said.

Snarr and Rodier had driven up to the reservoir about 10 p.m. the night of the shooting to photograph a full moon rising over the water. Rodier recounted at Benvenuto's preliminary hearing how she became nervous when Benvenuto approached them.

He asked a question about where the trail where they were standing went, Rodier testified, then moments later opened fire on them from behind. Snarr died instantly in the hail of gunfire but Rodier testified how she lay next to him, pretending to be dead, as Benvenuto reloaded his .44 magnum handgun, then opened fire on her again.

Benvenuto later told a friend that he wanted no witnesses to the shooting, according to court doc-u-ments.

Benvenuto rifled through Snarr and Rodier's pockets, even rolling her over once, taking Snarr's car keys and then fleeing in Snarr's Ford Bronco.

Rodier, badly wounded, dragged herself some 75 yards over rock and brush back to the roadway, where she flagged down a passing car.

Benvenuto was arrested the next night in Lehi without incident by police who spotted him on foot near a convenience store by the railroad tracks.