DNA Talks and Del Brocco’s Killer is Found
Two years after Sam Del Brocco’s brutally beaten body was discovered in his exclusive Pompano Beach condominium, friends of the millionaire communications executive from Virginia did not give up hope his killer would be caught.
They offered rewards of $25,000 and took out full-page ads here in the South Florida Gay News. But it was technology that eventually caught up with the beast who took this gentle man’s life.
When John Snavely was only 23 years old, he was dancing at Dude’s on A1A and stripping at the Boardwalk in Fort Lauderdale. He was also supporting himself as a model for a local porn group, Bailee Entertainment, and doing straight and gay videos under the names of Johnny Champ and Josh Logan. Muscular, strong and virile, he was a hot model. But it turned out he was also a cold-blooded killer.
When homicide detectives arrived on the scene of Del Brocco’s condo in September of 2010, they found a plethora of physical evidence, from partial fingerprints to tangible DNA samples. Thoroughly, they ran samples through the national system that matches these kinds of things, but came up short. There were no hits.
On June 13 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a hotly contested 5-4 decision that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit states from building large DNA databases by collecting samples from everyone arrested for serious crimes.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy called the taking of a cheek swab from arrestees "a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment."
His opinion argued that the testing could be justified as a means of confirming the identification of suspects. Normally a conservative on law enforcement issues, Justice Antonin Scalia bitterly dissented. But it was that practice which enabled law enforcement to find and arrest Snavely, who had been living in Miami.
It seems that Snavely and some girl he hooked up with ran into a problem up in St. Lucie County, Florida, and it led to his arrest in early 2013. Cops caught him with some meth, Valium and cannabis.
Police booking him into the jail in Stuart took samples of his DNA, which had never before been in a national database. The samples got run through the national system and came back with a hit to the murder scene in Pompano from 2010, when Snavely was working the streets and bars of Broward County. Once also on probation in San Antonio, Texas, back in 2010, apparently that criminal history also preceded DNA testing.
Finding the killer’s identity was also complicated by the victim’s secretive lifestyle. Del Brocco’s male encounters were all closeted and secret, and his night time rendezvous in gay clubs, like his trips to South Florida, were routinely paid for in cash. He did not want to be discovered. He had just finished a dinner eating alone at Kelley’s Landing in Fort Lauderdale, leading police to conclude early on he may have picked up a hitchhiker, one he invited back into his home - a fatal mistake.
Detectives investigating Del Brocco’s past found out that he kept many of these possible homosexual alliances private, leading an entirely different life in Alexandria, Virginia, where his known associations featured a long-time female social companion, Jan Shaffer, his wife of 30 years. They shared a 6,000 square foot home with a section cordoned off just for Del Brocco.
Despite that, the bulk of Del Brocco’s estate, it turns out, was left in trust for Justin DeVinney, a younger, male business associate at his company, PCI Communications. DeVinney, who himself was once a nude male model doing porn, was purported to be Del Brocco’s secret lover. But he considered Del Brocco his mentor.