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Man found not guilty in Mason City toddler death

MASON CITY (AP) — A jury took less than three hours to find a man not guilty of first-degree murder in the 1994 death of a Mason City toddler.

The Cerro Gordo County jury returned the verdict Monday for Michael Cisneros, the Mason City Globe Gazette reported.

Cisneros, 38, was charged in the slaying of 20-month-old John Snyder Jr. The Mason City toddler was reported missing on July 20, 1994, and his body was found the next day in a creek.

“It’s been a long road and we’re at the end and it feels great,” said defense attorney Steven Kloberdanz.

Cisneros was arrested in July 2013, nearly 20 years later, after investigators said there was a match between his DNA profile and blood found on the boy’s pajama bottoms. The pajama bottoms were found near the creek.

In opening statements last month, defense attorney Letitia Turner said Cisneros’ DNA is not linked to the apartment where the child was allegedly taken from. She offered another explanation for the DNA match at the creek.

Cisneros was near the creek in the early hours of July 20 and had to use the bathroom, she said. So he relieved himself near high grass and wiped his hands with something he found in the grass. She added that his blood came from cuts on his hands made earlier in the day.

During trial, the defense focused on the actions of the toddler’s father, John Snyder Sr. He reported his son missing from the family’s apartment.

“We were disappointed with the verdict but obviously the state does respect the jury’s decision,” said Assistant Iowa Attorney General Douglas Hammerand. “That’s the way our system works. We give them the case and we let them decide.”

Hammerand said the defense strategy was to make prosecutors prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Obviously we had strong evidence with the DNA evidence and the fact that the defendant knew the location and the cause of death, but the jurors thought otherwise,” he said.

Snyder testified during the trial that he smoked marijuana with Cisneros at his apartment in the weeks before his son went missing, the newspaper reported. He hung his head as a judge read the verdict Monday.

Members of the Snyder family declined to comment.

Cisneros was enrolled at a halfway house in Dubuque at the time of his arrest. It’s unclear what role that will play in his release.

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