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Crime victim draws on her experience to help others

It was the perfect first date — and then he was murdered.

When Zach Snarr picked up his friend Yvette Rodier to go out to dinner, she thought they were still just friends. She didn't bother to dry her hair or even worry about what she'd wear.

"He took me on this great date. We had a fantastic time," she recalled Wednesday.

After dinner, they went to Little Dell Reservoir. Zach had brought his photo equipment, and they were going to take pictures of a beautiful full moon. An 18-year-old girl, she was hoping to end the night with a kiss.

"Nothing was wrong. Everything felt so great," she said. "Until this white truck pulled up."

The man in the truck didn't walk directly toward them, but he eventually approached the couple.

"He said, 'Do you know where this goes?' or 'Have you been here before?' " she remembered. "I looked up and said no, and turned my back. I don't know if Zach turned his back. I hope he did because at that moment, the man pulled out a gun and opened fire."

Before a packed room at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, Yvette Rodier Evans recalled the night her friend died 13 years ago, recounting her journey from crime victim to victim rights advocate (she is now an attorney) and how the system both helped and hurt her. Her remarks were part of the 22nd annual Crime Victims Conference, with topics ranging from domestic violence and rape to cyberbullying and federal firearms laws.

Rodier Evans' poignant speech had victim advocates and state workers laughing and horrified at the same time.

"I screamed when he started shooting and then I yelled 'Oh my gosh!' and looking back, you say 'That's the worst swear word you can think of?' " she said.

The first bullet killed Zach Snarr. Rodier Evans was shot, but the man stopped to reload and emptied his gun into her. She was too numb to fear him until he put his hands in her pockets and she could feel his hot breath on her neck. She played dead.

"I was afraid he was going to rape me after he killed me," she said.

The man took Zach's wallet and car keys and she heard the man flee.

"Sometimes now I think what it must have been like to get in the car of someone you just killed and hear Neil Diamond," she said.

She willed herself up and screamed Zach's name. The silence was frightening. Blood poured down her face so much, she thought she was sweating. Rodier Evans said she scrambled up a mountainside for about 45 minutes until she could hear a car pull up.

"I yelled 'Help! We've been shot!' and they said, 'OK' and they got in their car and drove off," she recalled as audience members gasped.

But this was 1996 when cell phones weren't as readily available. The couple who heard her screams for help drove down the canyon to a home to call 911. Rodier Evans struggled to the road where the couple had returned. She wanted the police to go help Zach.

"I didn't want him alone," she said, tearing up. "My biggest regret that night is I didn't stay with him, that I didn't hold him, that I didn't put pressure on his wound."

Throughout her speech, Rodier Evans said it was the little moments that mattered, that made her feel human. As her jeans were being cut open by paramedics, she said she remembered feeling grateful she shaved her legs that day. As she was being flown by helicopter to LDS Hospital, a nurse pointed out the full moon.

Ultimately, police caught Jorge Benvenuto who admitted to the shootings. Rodier Evans said Benvenuto told police he killed her "to make sure I wasn't living the kind of life I'm living today."

To this day, Rodier Evans refuses to say his name.

"I've never said his name because I feel that gives him more respect than I want to give him," she told the crowd.

The random killing became a media frenzy, but Rodier Evans said the press was helpful to her. She was prepared for the court system, praising victim advocates who kept her protected and away from Benvenuto's family. Looking back, she's even OK with defense challenges to her credibility as a witness.

But she still cannot handle being in the same room as Benvenuto.

"That was, and remains to this day, the hardest thing for me is being in that room with him," she said. "I tell myself I should be empowered and yet being in that courtroom just crushes me each time. Seeing him, it's like he still has the weapon. He's still scary to me. The last time I was in court with him was three years ago. I'm grown now and I consider myself more mature and yet when he walked in that room I broke down sobbing, the uncontrollable sobbing."

Even now, as an attorney and a victims advocate, Rodier Evans said it is easy to get desensitized to that feeling with clients of her own.

"Keep that in mind," she told the crowd.

The concept of victims' rights is still relatively new in the criminal justice system, acknowledges Reed Richards, a deputy Weber County attorney and the chairman of the Utah Council on Victims of Crime.

"It's clearly a work in progress," he said Wednesday. "It's a little bit of a mind shift. Twenty years ago there was nothing about victims, and that's changed."

Rodier Evans said that going through the court system, she felt slighted when the Snarr family would be notified of every court hearing, but because she was a survivor, she was left out of the loop. She didn't know what Benvenuto would plead to until he did it. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for Snarr's killing and life with the chance of parole for shooting her.

Benvenuto filed appeals, and Rodier Evans felt even more out of the loop. His conviction was upheld and she praised a new law that allows victims to file statements in the appeals process.

"That's a place where our voices are often not heard," she said.

Richards said victims getting the kind of support and justice they want often depends on which agency is handling their case and what kind of funding they have. For example, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has a staff of victims advocates, but it often falls on a rural prosecutor's secretary to reach out.

"It's a continual fight to keep funding," he said.

Recent state budget cuts have affected the courts' ability to notify victims of upcoming hearings, Richards said. Domestic violence victims continue to be notified when a perpetrator is due to be released from jail and the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole continues to notify victims of any upcoming hearings.

Rodier Evans said her case went through the courts relatively quickly, unlike others. She said the Office of Crime Victim Reparations was helpful in keeping on top of bills for numerous surgeries. She noted that she was recently denied private insurance because she has a metal plate in her head from the shooting and is considered "high risk."

Rodier Evans said she loves her job, helping other crime victims.

"I do think overcoming crime and making the crime itself part of your life and not something you're ashamed of, it's really been a good way to handle the crime and losing Zach," she said. "I really think this challenge has made my life more meaningful."