Often, it’s sound judgment that will take you far in life. Whether it’s deciding how to spend your time at work or where to invest your money, the ability to assess and act are invaluable.

On the flip side of things, a lapse in judgment can have horrific consequences. It’s a scary thought that one bad decision can snowball into a lifetime’s worth of woe, but it happens all too frequently. (Just read about any tragedy for proof of that!)

Don’t believe it? Let the story of Ryan Holle show why a lapse in judgment can be a life-changer…

In order to keep her kids in a well-disciplined environment, a single mother named Sylvia Holle decided to join the U.S. Navy. As was common with military families, Sylvia was stationed all around the world, and her children lived in many different military bases. Sylvia’s son, Ryan Holle, grew up surrounded by the ranks of law, order, and justice for most of his young life.

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In 2003, Ryan helped his mother celebrate once of her happiest moments: her wedding to her longtime love, John Garnett. And there to celebrate alongside the family was someone whose fate would dictate the remainder of Ryan’s life…

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Her name was Jessica Snyder. At the time, she was 18 years old and romantically involved with Ryan’s roommate, Billy Allen. Billy had a bit of an unsavory reputation. In fact, rumors had him romantically involved with not just Jessica, but her mother as well. Like Jessica, Billy would forever change Ryan Holle’s life.

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The fact was, Billy knew a few important things about Jessica’s mother: she sold drugs—which is why he owed her money—and she kept over $20,000 in cash tucked away in the family’s home safe. Unbeknownst to Ryan, these crucial details would factor into his own life just a few days after Sylvia’s wedding…

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Days after his mother’s wedding, Ryan threw a barn-burner of a party. Throwing caution to the wind, he didn’t hesitate to down somewhere between six and 10 rum and Cokes. Ryan became extremely intoxicated, and it led to an early night. He withdrew to his bedroom before the festivities even ended…

At 7 a.m. the next morning, Billy’s friend Donnie Williams burst into Ryan’s bedroom. He needed to borrow Ryan’s car, and using his good judgment, Ryan quickly refuted the request. That’s when Billy entered the bedroom. He made the same request, and, trusting his friend and roommate, Ryan obliged. That would be the simple lapse in judgment that would change Ryan’s life forever…

You see, as Ryan lie in bed still feeling the effects of the alcohol, more of Billy’s friends entered the room. They asked for bandanas—which Ryan told them where to find—and discussed going to Jessica’s house and stealing the $20,000. Their discussion evidently gravitated to what would happen if Jessica or her mother were home, and the boys decided that, were it necessary, they’d subdue her. Ryan, as hungover as he was, thought it was all a joke.

So Ryan went back to bed. Meanwhile, Billy, Donnie, and two of their friends—Jermond Thomas and Charles Miller—all sat in Ryan’s parked car outside Jessica’s house. Their plan to rob the place had hit a snafu: Jessica’s younger sister had not yet left for school. While trying to decide what to do, Billy’s phone rang. It was Ryan.

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On the other end of the line, Ryan asked Billy where he’d taken his car, and Billy was honest with him: he and his friends were outside Jessica’s house waiting for Jessica’s sister to leave. Whether it was the alcohol or an unwavering trust in his roommate, Ryan still didn’t believe him and thought it was a gag. When Billy abruptly ended the conversation, Ryan again rolled over and went back to bed…

Back in the car, the four friends watched as Jessica’s little sister left the house. The robbery plan was back on. They burst through the front door, only to be met with the terrified screams of none other than Jessica herself. Ignoring her, three of the men made their way to the safe. However, the fourth man, Charles Miller, was not so keen to forget their discussion that morning. If Jessica was home, they planned to subdue her…

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Charles grabbed a shotgun off the wall and, as per his friends’ previous discussion, decided to quiet Jessica with a few vicious blows with the butt of the gun. He struck her so many times that the butt actually shattered to pieces. Jessica’s body dropped to the floor, lifeless, while the others could only watch. Horrified, they grabbed the entire safe and fled back to Ryan and Billy’s house.

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Back at the house, Ryan heard a loud bang. “My car [was] basically sitting in my backyard,” he recalled in an interview with Crime Watch Daily. He watched, stunned, as Billy and the others threw the safe out of the car and used every tool they could find to bust it open. Clearly, Ryan started realizing, they had not been joking earlier that morning.

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Ryan finally realized the gravity of the situation when he noticed blood on Charles’ clothes. A moment later, Donnie—the first man to ask for Ryan’s keys—started crying. “One minute it’s like I could see her head there,” he said, “and then the next minute I couldn’t.” Before Ryan could even ask, the police showed up.

A neighbor had heard the racket of the four men desperately trying to break open the locked safe and called the authorities. Confident in his innocence, Ryan complied with the police’s orders to freeze. All five men were cuffed.

The circumstantial evidence against Ryan’s favor, however, was significant: when the police arrived, Ryan—who had only just woken up—was among the four actual criminals. Though in reality he was seriously hungover and simply trying to process all he’d seen, the police interpreted his behavior as unconcerned, despite the blood on Donnie’s shirt or his car’s obvious involvement in the heist. Ryan, along with the other four men, was charged with Jessica’s murder.

To be lumped in with the other four only made Ryan’s situation worse: See, a law known as the Felony Murder Law states that, if a group of people are committing a serious crime—a robbery, a burglary, or a rape, for instance—and someone dies in the process, then all involved can be charged with the murder…

But there was a tiny glimmer of hope. Authorities offered Ryan a plea deal; after all, he didn’t plan the robbery, he didn’t drive the car, and he wasn’t an intended recipient of any money from the safe. For a guilty plea to a lesser crime, Ryan would receive just 10 years in prison. He declined based on advice from John Garnett, his stepfather. Knowing he was innocent, he opted to face a judge and jury…

In the end, the judge and jury saw things like this: Ryan had overheard the four men discuss their plans of robbing Jessica. He showed them where the bandanas were. He still lended them his car. With the Felony Murder Law in play, Ryan was found responsible for Jessica’s death, and he received life in prison without parole.

Ryan’s family was shocked: even Ryan’s lawyer believed that the jury would not find Ryan guilty of murder. But the jury felt that Ryan deserved one of the harsher punishments. Had he never handed over his keys, there would have never been a crime; had there never been a crime, there would have been no murder.

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After a hearing years later, Ryan received good news: his life sentence had been commuted to 25 years plus 10 years probation. That meant that, in 2024, he’d be free to return home to his family. He said, “It’s a blessing in the sense that I know I’m not going to have to spend the rest of my life in prison.

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Ryan’s story shows how a lapse in judgment can snowball into greater tragedies. Had he had all his wits about him that morning, it’s likely he would have never been sentenced, and a woman wouldn’t have lost her life.

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