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    1. #1
      Heidi's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Virginia Beach, Virginia

      Death Penalty Off the Table for Brandon Perry Smith in 2010 UT Slayings of Brandie Jerden and Jerrica Christensen

      Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden, 27, and Jerrica Christensen, 20

      Hearing to look at evidence in St. George slayings

      ST. GEORGE - A 5th District Court judge scheduled a preliminary hearing date Wednesday for one of the suspects accused of slaying two women shortly before Christmas in a downtown neighborhood.

      Brandon Perry Smith, who will turn 30 on Sunday, is charged along with Paul Clifford Ashton, 32, in the aggravated murders of Jerrica Christensen, 20, of Leeds, and Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden, 27, of St. George on Dec. 11, 2010. Ashton is also charged with attempted aggravated murder in the shooting of James Fiske, 28, during the incident at a 600 South residence.

      Judge James Shumate scheduled the hearing in Smith's case for Nov. 3 and 4, at which time the Washington County Attorney's Office will be required to present enough evidence from the investigation to show it has a credible reason for pressing forward with the prosecution.

      If the prosecution succeeds in advancing to trial, Smith will then enter a formal plea to the charges and the county attorney's office will have 60 days to determine if it will seek the death penalty as a potential punishment.

      Deputy County Attorney Brian Filter said some of the forensic evidence in the investigation is being held up by motions filed by the defense in Ashton's case relating to lab tests and how the tests can be carried out.

      "We're ready to go even if that (evidence) is not available by that date," Filter said.

      The prosecution filed a response to 24 defense motions in the Ashton case Wednesday and the defense has 15 days to file a counter-response with the court.

      A hearing on the motions in Ashton's case will be scheduled sometime after Sept. 20 to allow the attorneys to present their sides on the issues.


    2. #2
      Heidi's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Virginia Beach, Virginia
      Hearing set for murder suspect

      A hearing on how much the state of Utah will pay public defenders representing a local murder suspect has been scheduled for next month in 5th District Court.

      Defense attorneys Aric Cramer and Douglas Terry filed the motion for a hearing on the matter Wednesday after noting that attorneys' fees payable by the Indigent Capital Defense Trust Fund had reached the maximum allowed and their client's defense could be affected.

      Cramer and Terry represent Paul Clifford Ashton, 32, of St. George, who is one of two men accused of killing two women and shooting a male acquaintance at Ashton's home more than a year ago.

      "The motion is for the state to provide constitutionally adequate attorneys' fees or, in the alternative, take (the death penalty) off the table," Cramer said Friday. "When someone's life is on the line, you can't cut corners."

      The issue lies in the way public defenders are paid to represent suspects who can't afford to hire attorneys, Cramer said.

      The defense fund changed from a flat-rate contract last year to paying by the hour for attorneys representing clients in death penalty cases, Cramer said. The American Bar Association, a professional organization for members of the legal profession, advocates for no cap on indigent defense funds in capital murder cases, he said.

      "If an attorney is only going to be paid a certain amount of money, he will have a financial incentive to cut corners in the case ... and accelerate the rate of resolution because he won't get paid," Cramer said.

      Judge James Shumate scheduled a Jan. 20 hearing on the funding request.

      "I don't think this issue has ever been reached before under the current contract," Cramer said. "If the state wants to take the death penalty off the table, then I'm already under contract (for regular indigent defense) for a flat fee."

      The Washington County Attorney's Office has not said it will seek the death penalty if Ashton is found guilty, but the possibility exists. The prosecution is required to declare if it will seek the death penalty within two months after initial evidence in the case is presented at the preliminary hearing and a formal plea is entered.

      That hearing has not yet been scheduled, pending resolution of the funding issue and another two dozen defense motions related to court procedures, evidence handling, attorney ethics and pretrial publicity.

      The Spectrum has entered the case as an intervenor to argue against limiting publicity following a June motion by Cramer and Terry to exclude the public and the media from all pretrial hearings, seal all records related to the case and prohibit anyone connected to the prosecution from releasing information about the case to the media.

      "Under the Constitution, the free press, ... the surrogate for the public, has the right and obligation to help keep the proceedings as public as possible," The Spectrum's general outside counsel, Tim Anderson of the St. George law office Jones Waldo, said. "The court is about the public's business."

      Anderson said The Spectrum is not involved in the general merits of Ashton's case.

      "We're only involved with the issue of the public's right to know," he said.


    3. #3
      Heidi's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Virginia Beach, Virginia
      Hearing postponed in murder case

      Fifth District Court officials have postponed until next month a hearing on whether the public defenders representing a murder suspect should be paid more than the contracted amount.

      Aric Cramer and co-counsel Douglas Terry filed a motion last month asking for payment beyond the $100,000 cap imposed on public assistance from the state's Aggravated Murder Indigent Defense Trust Funds in the case of Paul Clifford Ashton, 32, of St. George, who is accused of shooting a woman to death at his home on Dec. 11, 2010, and then shooting a man who survived and fled the home.

      Ashton is also accused as an accomplice in the murder of a second woman in the home the same evening. Co-defendant Brandon Perry Smith, 30, also of St. George, is accused of beating the woman and stabbing her to death in an attempt to prevent her from testifying about the shootings.

      Cramer said the motion seeking more payment is to ensure that his client's constitutional rights are fully protected in a case that could potentially result in the death penalty if Ashton is found guilty.

      The Washington County Attorney's Office has not yet declared whether it will seek the death penalty, but Cramer said it is necessary to act as though it has been decided to be on the safe side.

      "When someone's life is on the line, you can't cut corners," he said last month after requesting a hearing on the motion.

      "If an attorney is only going to be paid a certain amount of money, he will have a financial incentive to cut corners in the case ... and accelerate the rate of resolution because he won't get paid," Cramer said. "On appeal, the defendant can challenge what his attorneys did without any actual showing the attorneys did something wrong."

      A hearing on the matter was scheduled Friday, however Utah Assistant Attorney General Paul Tonks filed a memorandum opposing a change to the contract Tuesday, and a decision to postpone the hearing was issued later in the week.

      A review of the matter is now scheduled for Feb. 27. Smith hired his own attorney, but his case was rescheduled to the same date as Ashton's.

      In his memorandum supporting the increase in pay, Cramer argues the complexity of the case makes the contracted payment schedule inadequate.

      Cramer cites an enormous amount of evidence materials related to the case, stemming from the investigation of multiple witnesses, two crime scenes (the bathroom and the front room), DNA testing, forensic cellphone analysis and claims made by a jail inmate against Ashton, as well as the involvement of outside parties in the case, such as The Spectrum's opposition to a motion to stop all pretrial publicity and the federal government's efforts to interview Ashton.

      In addition, Ashton was arrested after he allegedly fled the scene in a pickup truck. Smith was arrested at a Santa Clara residence, and both suspects' vehicles were included in the evidence search.

      Cramer is being paid $170 an hour and Terry is being paid $140 an hour under the contract. Through Nov. 20, the attorneys had already performed 335 hours and 318 hours of work respectively on the case, Cramer states, meaning they had already exceeded the $100,000 total payable in the case, some of which had not yet been paid.

      In Tonks' response to the motion, he argued the fund ceiling is constitutional and that the attorneys agreed the payment was reasonable when they entered the contract.

      "The constitutional right to assistance of counsel does not require unlimited funding of counsel and investigations. ... The fund does not contain an unlimited amount of money," Tonks' memorandum states. "The total assessments from the participating counties for 2012 paid into the fund was $463,294. ... In fact, the total amount paid into the fund by Washington County, the second-largest county participant in the fund, was only $69,570."

      Tonks states the fund's balance was $291,165.23 as of Nov. 29, and a number of bills were outstanding at the time.

      Twenty-four counties pay into the fund and are assessed an amount based on their populations. The fund is then available to each of the counties at the discretion of a managing board.

      Davis County, the largest participating county, was assessed $138,313 for 2012. Davis and 11 other counties were listed as having paid their assessments as of the filing, but Washington County was not one of them.


    4. #4
      Heidi's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Virginia Beach, Virginia
      Attorneys seek more funding

      Defense attorneys for a murder suspect are asking that a $100,000 payment cap be lifted because of the amount of time they have spent on the December 2010 case.

      Judge James L. Shumate denied the motion Monday in 5th District Court presented by defense attorneys Aric Cramer and co-counsel Douglas Terry. The motion, filed in December, asked for payment beyond the cap imposed on public assistance from the state's Aggravated Murder Indigent Defense Trust Funds.

      Cramer and Terry represent Paul Clifford Ashton, 32, of St. George, who is accused of shooting a woman to death at his home on Dec. 11, 2010, and then shooting a man, who survived and fled the home.

      Ashton also is charged as an accomplice in a second homicide that took place in the home that same day. His co-defendant is Brandon Perry Smith, 30, of St. George. Perry is accused of beating and stabbing a woman to death to prevent her from testifying about the shootings.

      Shumate said while he understands the trial has some extenuating circumstances that would require more time and effort on the part of the defense attorneys, the review board for the trust funds has not reviewed the motion and evidentiary support to back up the defense counsel's request.

      "I find this motion to be premature," Shumate said. "However the court cannot help but take note of the vigilant and zealous representation of their clients."

      The judge encouraged Cramer and Terry to resubmit their motion to the board, which can rule on the documentation the defense counsel is using to support their request. If the board rules in favor of raising the soft cap on the $100,000 for public assistance, the matter will not return to the courts, Shumate said. However, if the board cannot agree to approve the motion, the court would address the matter again.

      Utah Assistant Attorney General Paul Tonks said his biggest concern in hearing the motion is that the defense is asking for the possibility of the death penalty in the Ashton case to be removed from the table.

      "My greatest concern is the amount they are asking for here," he said. "They are asking to vacate the death penalty sentence because of the lack of funding."

      Tonks said it might be more appropriate for the court to decide on the motion.

      Shumate said he would like to see the motion reviewed by the board before it is again brought to the court.

      Also during Monday's court proceedings, the defense counsel agreed to set a date for Ashton's pretrial hearing, which is now set for April 9. Smith also has a hearing set for that afternoon, at which time a preliminary hearing can be scheduled and evidence in the case may be up for review.

      "Mr. Ashton has been in custody for just over a year now," Shumate said. "We need to handle this expeditiously."


    5. #5
      Senior Member
      JLR's Avatar
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      Mar 2011
      September 4, 2013

      Ashton sentenced to life in prison for 2010 murder

      Written by Mori Kessler

      ST. GEORGE – Paul Clifford Ashton was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in Fifth District Court Wednesday for the December 2010 murder of 27-year-old Brandie Jerden, of St. George.

      The December 2010 incident involved the murders of Jerden and 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen, of Leeds, and the attempted murder of James Fiske, also of St. George. Ashton was originally charged with both murders and attempted murder. However, a plea deal dropped the charge involving Christensen when Ashton pleaded guilty in July.

      Brandon Perry Smith, 31, of Santa Clara, who was also involved in the incident, is being charged with Christensen’s murder and has a preliminary hearing set for the week of Oct. 7, 2013.

      According to court documents, on Dec. 11, 2010, at approximately 3:15 a.m., police responded to 575 S. Main St. in St. George, where they encountered the wounded Fiske and slain Christensen and Jerden. Fiske had suffered a gunshot wound. One of the deceased women had also been shot, while the other appeared to have succumbed to “incised” wounds. The wounds were allegedly inflicted on the woman as a means to keep her from testifying about the incident.

      There was a somber atmosphere in the courtroom as Ashton, 34, of St. George, appeared before Judge James Shumate for sentencing Wednesday afternoon. This appearance came a day after Ashton appeared in federal court to be sentenced for the October 2010 kidnapping and murder of Bradley Eitner. Ashton was sentenced to life plus 10 years in federal prison in that case.

      Judge Shumate said he had reviewed the federal case and sentencing recommendations connected with it, namely having Asthon serve his state and federal-issued life sentences concurrently while in federal custody. Before sentencing was officially passed, however, he gave the parties involved a chance to address the court.

      Jessie Jerden, brother of Brandie Jerden, stood up and spoke on his slain sister’s behalf. He said he didn’t think federal time would be hard enough on Ashton, and wished he could be sent to a foreign country where harsher punishments were allowed.

      “I still never got a resolution over what (the murder) was over,” he said, referring to an apparent lack of motive in the case. “Was it worth it?” he asked, looking at Ashton. “I hope you live every day with the gravity of what you did.”

      Although Asthon will be in jail the rest of his natural life, Jessie Jerden said, “It will never, ever bring my sister back.”

      “I don’t believe it is possible for the survivors to ever sense that justice is done,” Shumate said. “The loss is too great.”

      One of Ashton’s attorneys, Douglas Terry, said he often wondered what led his younger clients from periods as innocent children to a courtroom. He said it was an example of the “but for theory.” But for this or that circumstance, things could have turned out drastically different for Ashton and others.

      Terry recalled an incident in 2007 in which Ashton was shot multiple times and left for dead in Odgen. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Ogden police suspected the incident was possibly gang-related. Terry also mentioned Ashton’s daily use of methamphetamine during the time of the killings as well. “But for” these incidents that changed the direction of Asthon’s life, Terry said, things could have turned out much different.

      “Paul has taken responsibility for his conduct in this case,” Terry said, “and has forfeited his liberty for the rest of his life.”

      Asthon then addressed the court. “I am truly, truly sorry,” he said. “I do have to live with (this) every day. I just want to be heard to say, “I am sorry.””

      While saying “I’m sorry” is something, Brian Filter of the Washington County Attorney’s Office said, “It doesn’t undo the heinous actions he has undertaken.”

      Filter acknowledged Ashton’s troubled past, but also said he wondered why he couldn’t have responded to others with empathy instead of anger. He also spoke to the apparent lack of motive Jessie Jerden referred to. “I can’t tell the court how many hours I’ve spent trying to find an answer,” he said.

      “The defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison” and no longer be a threat to the community, Filter said.

      “I agree with Mr. Terry that what we are doing here today is the culmination of a tragedy,” Judge Shumate said.

      When the comments concluded, Judge Shumate sentenced Ashton to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Brandie Jerden. The sentence is to be served concurrently with the life sentence in federal prison for the Eitner murder Ashton was also sentenced to serve for the attempted murder of Fiske, and for possession of methamphetamine.


    6. #6
      Heidi's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Virginia Beach, Virginia
      Judge discusses death penalty

      A 5th District Court judge ruled Wednesday that sufficient evidence exists to support a potential death penalty case against the man accused of killing a Leeds resident in December 2010.

      Prosecutors who filed an aggravated murder charge against Brandon Perry Smith, 32, argued that Smith should be tried not only for the murder of Jerrica Christensen, 20, at a St. George residence, but also on 6 "aggravating" elements that would classify the case as an enhanced capital homicide that could result in a death sentence if Smith is found guilty.

      The Washington County Attorney's Office has 60 days to inform the court if it will ask for a death sentence.

      Judge James Shumate approved a trial on 4 of the alleged aggravators - that Christensen's death took place as part of an incident in which other people were killed or victims of attempted murder, that her slaying was an attempt to prevent her from testifying about another murder, that her murder was incident to an attempted kidnapping and that the murder was committed in a heinous or cruel fashion that included depraved behavior by the suspected killer.

      The prosecution lost its bid to claim Christensen was mutilated or dismembered in a manner that unusually exceeded the circumstances necessary to cause her death.

      Shumate also rejected the claim that the murders of Christensen and another woman found dead at the home - 27-year-old Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden of St. George - created a substantial risk of death to other people in proximity to the slayings but not among the slain.

      Smith's codefendant, Paul Clifford Ashton, 34, was convicted and sentenced last month for killing Jerden and shooting a 3rd victim in the home, 30-year-old James Fiske. Fiske survived and testified Monday during the 1st day of what was planned as a weeklong evidentiary hearing in Smith's case.

      Smith is accused of pointing a gun at Jerden and Fiske without firing it during the incident, which resulted in an additional charge of aggravated assault.

      "Let me take one opportunity to cover the human side of the case. ... The pain suffered on both sides of these events defies description," Shumate said, making reference to Christensen's mother, Ellen Hensley, who has consistently attended hearings connected to the nearly 3-year-old case, and apparently to Smith's relatives as well, who sat on the opposite side of the courtroom.

      "It's horrible. I hate to think about it," said defense attorney Gary Pendleton, who essentially found himself in the position of arguing to have his client charged with murder by asking the court to dismiss the aggravating enhancements in the case.

      "The facts of this case make me sick to my stomach. They do," Pendleton said. "Every murder could be characterized as cruel. ... Jerrica didn't deserve to die this way. There's no question about that. The question here is whether this defendant should be eligible for the death penalty."

      Pendleton argued that Smith made bad decisions after Ashton enticed him to get into the middle of a conflict Ashton had with other people, and had not done so with premeditation.

      Filter argued that the evidence shows Smith knew he was getting into the middle of a volatile situation and allegedly brought guns that Ashton didn't otherwise have access to. Filter also argued that Smith allegedly killed Christensen in a brutal manner that involved beating her with a socket wrench, pounding her head against objects, strangling her and ultimately cutting her throat as she fought back, all while Smith carried a semiautomatic gun that could have made her death more immediate.

      "That's haunted me since the beginning of the case," Filter said. "If he was going to kill her, for heaven's sake, (why not) just shoot her?"

      Throughout the 3 days of the hearing, Smith sat with head bowed at the defense table, seldom looking up or making eye contact with anyone in the courtroom.

      Hensley told The Spectrum that she feels "really bad for (Smith's) family," and she took advantage of a court recess Wednesday morning to chat with Smith's mother.

      "If my child did that, I would be questioning, 'Where did I go wrong?'" Hensley said. "It took me months and months and months to stop feeling guilty because (my daughter) should have been at home."

      Shumate set a Nov. 20 arraignment hearing, when Smith will enter a plea. If he pleads not guilty, a trial will be set.

      (source: The Spectrum)
      An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    7. #7
      Moh's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Death penalty sought in 2010 double-murder case

      Written by Mori Kessler

      ST. GEORGE – Prosecutors have filed notice with the court that they intend to seek the death penalty for the man accused of the 2010 slaying of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen of Leeds.

      Prosecutors with the Washington County Attorney’s Office filed the notice in Fifth District Court earlier this week for Brandon Perry Smith, 32, of St. George, who is accused of beating Christensen and slitting her throat.

      The accusation stems from the Dec. 2010 murders of Christensen and 27-year-old Brandie Jerden, of St. George, and attempted murder of James Fiske, also of St. George. Paul Ashton pleaded guilty to shooting Jerden and Fiske and was sentenced in November 2013 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

      Smith was subsequently charged with first-degree felony aggravated murder.

      The county attorney’s office filed the intent to seek the death penalty Tuesday.


    8. #8
      Helen69's Avatar
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      Jan 2013
      Toronto, Ontario, Canada
      Judge reviews death penalty decision in murder case

      ST. GEORGE – The judge in a St. George murder case is weighing arguments about whether to uphold a prior magistrate’s decision allowing the death penalty if a jury finds the suspected killer guilty at trial.

      Fifth District Judge G. Michael Westfall took under advisement Friday a motion by defense attorney Gary Pendleton to “quash” the court’s order upholding the arrest of Brandon Perry Smith, 33, on suspicion of killing Leeds resident Jerrica Christensen in December 2010.

      Westfall did not announce a deadline for issuing his decision on Pendleton’s motion against holding Smith for trial in the case.

      Pendleton filed the motion in November 2013, a few weeks after Judge James Shumate ruled that prosecutors had amassed sufficient evidence to justify their belief that Smith was involved in the aggravated murder of Christensen.

      Pendleton’s motion does not attempt to dispute whether Smith was physically involved in the slaying, but instead claims the court erred in finding the murder was an “aggravated” crime and therefore worthy of death penalty consideration.

      Specifically, Pendleton argues that, contrary to Shumate’s ruling, the prosecution’s evidence does not show Smith deliberately planned to kill anyone or that he found some type of perverse pleasure in making the victim suffer.

      Shumate accepted four of the six “aggravator” circumstances prosecutors had alleged – finding that Christensen’s death was part of a single incident in which two or more people were killed or in which an attempt was made to kill them, that the slaying was part of an attempted kidnapping, that Christensen was killed in an attempt to prevent her from being a witness to other elements of the crime, and that her slaying was “especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or exceptionally depraved.”

      Friday’s hearing was in response to arguments about the issue that have been prepared during the approximately 15-month interim since the hearing, during which time Shumate retired and the prosecutor, Deputy County Attorney Brian Filter, left for a job in Nevada.

      Westfall told Deputy County Attorney Ryan Shaum, representing the prosecution Friday, that he was most inclined to question the first and last aggravators – whether Christensen’s death was deliberately connected to another murder and an attempted murder, and whether her death was the result of an intent to torture her.

      Smith is accused of working with codefendant Paul Clifford Ashton in a scheme to kidnap and, eventually, to probably slay a group of people at Ashton’s downtown St. George condo during the night of the incident.

      Ashton pleaded guilty in 2013 to shooting two other people immediately prior to Christensen’s slaying – St. George residents Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden and James Fiske. Fiske survived. Ashton is now serving a life sentence in prison.

      Pendleton told Westfall that the crux of his concerns about Smith’s case lies in actions or, in some cases, the inaction of prosecutors since Smith was arrested. Pendleton claims the state failed to investigate evidence that might have convinced Shumate that Smith was coerced by Ashton and that the aggravators were therefore unwarranted.

      “When you effectively prevent the magistrate from being presented with the evidence that would provide an alternative explanation and then you say, ‘This is the only reasonable inference.’ … That concerns me,” Pendleton said.

      “The state seems to think they have performed every duty they have. … They seem to take the position they don’t have any obligation to follow up on (the other evidence),” he said.

      Pendleton specifically referred to text messages Smith exchanged with Ashton immediately prior to the incident. In the text messages, Ashton asks Smith to bring him a gun to defend himself against someone who reportedly has threatened Ashton.

      Smith initially demurs, suggesting a list of alternatives before finally yielding to Ashton’s wishes.

      Pendleton also referred to testimony from a jail inmate that Ashton, while at the Washington County Jail sent “kite” notes between the cells in which Ashton allegedly jokes about Smith’s clumsy attempt to kill Christensen, requiring Ashton’s assistance, as well as Ashton’s claim he would have killed Smith if he didn’t kill Christensen, and Ashton’s subsequent efforts to have another inmate kill Fiske.

      Pendleton argues that the aggravators that could lead to a death sentence for Smith essentially hold him responsible for the shootings of Fiske and Jerden, even though Smith has not been formally charged in relation to those victims.

      Pendleton also claims that Filter erred in deciding to dismiss a charge against Ashton that held him responsible for Christensen’s death.

      In regard to whether Christensen’s murder was a “heinous” crime, Filter argued that Smith had the opportunity to “just shoot” the woman and instead handed his gun to Ashton while beating, choking and repeatedly cutting Christensen with a small pocket knife.

      Pendleton and Shaum argued Friday about whether Christensen’s death was deliberately prolonged during the ordeal, because Westfall’s ruling on that aggravator will hinge on whether evidence shows Smith was simply clumsy or if he allegedly displayed a perverse fascination with the different means of hurting her.

      Ellen Hensley, Christensen’s mother, has repeatedly complained about the long judicial process and at a courthouse vigil last month reminisced about the daughter who was so much like her that they often shared clothes.

      "She spent her last night on this earth helping others. Helping a friend. And in turn, helping people she didn't even know to move them and their belongings. She was murdered by a man … (who) didn’t even know her name,” Hensley said.

      "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."
      - Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian

      "I would argue that cruel and unusual should be interpreted as anything worse than what the victim suffered."
      - silly democrats

      “There are some people who just do not deserve to live,”
      - Rev. Richard Hawke

      "Critical Thinking Helen"
      - Lynn Benson

    9. #9
      Moh's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Trial date set in Smith murder case

      ST. GEORGE – A trial date has been scheduled for Bloomington Hills murder suspect Brandon Perry Smith, 33, indicating a possible resolution in the 4 ½-year-old potential death penalty case may finally be near.

      Defense attorney Gary Pendleton asked the court last week to plan for two weeks of testimony and evidence related to the slaying of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen shortly before Christmas in 2010.

      Judge G. Michael Westfall has scheduled a trial that will begin Sept. 28 and continue until Oct. 9, Westfall’s case manager said Tuesday.

      The jury will not be sequestered during the trial and is expected to spend nights and the intervening weekend at home.

      Two trial-planning events are scheduled on Sept. 2 and Sept. 16 to ensure no last-minute difficulties hinder the trial from taking place.

      Smith is accused of beating and choking Christensen in a failed attempt to knock her out before ultimately cutting her throat with a pocket knife.

      Smith allegedly left her to bleed to death in what prosecutors have characterized as an attempt to prevent her from testifying about the shootings of two other people in the downtown St. George home where her body was found.

      Smith’s friend, Paul Clifford Ashton, pleaded guilty in 2013 to shooting 27-year-old Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden and her acquaintance, James Fiske, during a dispute at Ashton’s home that preceded Christensen’s murder.

      He was convicted on state and federal murder charges related to Jerden and another victim, and is now serving life-without-parole.

      Fiske survived the shootings and testified against Smith during a pretrial hearing, although his statements at times conflicted with what the prosecution says really happened.

      Former Deputy County Attorney Brian Filter won a court ruling shortly after the hearing in October 2013 allowing the death penalty as a possible sentence if Smith is convicted by a jury at trial, despite Pendleton’s efforts in opposition.

      Christensen’s mother, Ellen Hensley, has attended the court hearings throughout the process and has occasionally complained about her long wait for justice.

      In December, Hensley organized a candlelight vigil on the 5th District Courthouse lawn on the anniversary of her daughter’s death, calling for swifter justice for crime victims and their family members.

      “Four years ago, (my daughter) was murdered. Worse yet, she was murdered in a very brutal manner,” Hensley said at the time. “Too many times I’ve walked through the doors of the Washington County courthouse to attend hearings. Too many times, hearings have been reset or set at a much-delayed date. It has been one of the most frustrating and challenging experiences of my life, to say the least, as the entire court process is out of my hands.”

      Pendleton filed a motion last month asking the court to bar any statements Smith made during his police questioning from being used as evidence in the trial. Pendleton argues Smith’s Miranda rights were violated by the St. George Police Department’s interview process.

      Polls show that a large majority of Utahns support the use of the death penalty — more so than the rest of the country. Yet in many cases, Utah prosecutors are not pursuing the ultimate punishment.

      Experts offer several reasons for not pursuing a death penalty, including the relatively new option of sentencing a person to prison without parole, the extremely long, expensive and complicated appeals process for anyone sentenced to death, and desires of some victims’ families to see an end to a criminal case for closure.

      “What you want is a prosecutor who struggles with the death penalty, because it’s a decision to take somebody’s life,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said during a 2013 interview. “It shouldn’t be something we do arbitrarily. It’s not something that we should be cavalier about. It is not something we should reach to with indiscretion.”

      This week, the American Pharmacists Association took a stance opposing the distribution of the drugs used nationwide in lethal injections if the drugs are intended for that purpose.

      Utah’s Legislature reinstated the use of a firing squad as a backup option for capital punishment cases if the drug cocktail is no longer available.

      Rep. Paul Ray, who sponsored the bill, said he knew the announcement from the pharmacists association was coming, which contributed to his urgency in getting a backup plan in place.

      “If they don’t want to sell the drug cocktail, fine,” he said Tuesday. “We’d prefer it, but now we have a means to carry out our executions.”

      Critics of the measure say allowing firing squads again could drive away tourism industry business, although state tourism director Vicki Varela said in a statement she doesn’t think the firing squad presents a major problem because executions are rare and the possibility that the state will have to use its backup is remote.

      “We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty, and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” Gov. Gary Herbert’s spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said after Herbert signed the bill into law last week.

      Enforcing death sentences is “the obligation of the executive branch,” however, Carpenter said.


    10. #10
      Moh's Avatar
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      Oct 2010
      Murder trial date to be rescheduled

      A two-week September trial date scheduled for a 2010 St. George murder case has been canceled as attorneys continue to work through pretrial motions over the possibility of the death penalty if the defendant is found guilty.

      Defense attorney Gary Pendleton is asking 5th District Court Judge G. Michael Westfall to throw out any evidence gained from comments made to police by Brandon Perry Smith, 33, in relation to the death of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen on grounds that Smith wasn’t properly advised about his right to be represented by an attorney.

      Smith is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated assault in connection to Christensen’s death at a 600 South townhome and the alleged gun-brandishing incident preceding her death in which 27-year-old Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden and 32-year-old James Fiske were shot.

      Smith’s codefendant, Paul Clifford Ashton, 36, was convicted of killing Jerden and wounding Fiske and is now serving a life sentence in prison. Smith is accused of drawing a gun at the same time as Ashton, but without firing it.

      At an evidentiary hearing in 2013 presided over by now-retired Judge James Shumate, Fiske testified about his recollections of the evening. The courtroom also heard recordings of the 911 call Smith made a few hours after the slayings in which he offered to come in and speak with detectives about the incident, as well as a portion of the questioning that took place once he was taken into police custody.

      Shumate ruled after the hearing that Smith will be eligible for the death penalty if a jury finds him guilty – a decision Pendleton unsuccessfully asked the court to overturn.

      During a new hearing Friday morning, Westfall listened to the recordings amid arguments over whether evidence from the police interview will be allowed at the trial.

      Former St. George Police Detective Chris Trani testified that Smith was relatively at ease and conversational during the questioning, noting that when Trani went to remove Smith’s handcuffs Smith asked if he could try to get them around his feet and in front of him, something he “always wondered” if he could do. Trani allowed Smith to try, and he succeeded, Trani said.

      Trani added that he informed Smith of the Miranda warning regarding his Constitutional rights before asking him what he had wanted to talk to police about. In recordings of the interview, Trani informs Smith that he has a right to remain silent and to have an attorney present, and that if he can’t afford an attorney, the courts will appoint one for him.

      Pendleton questioned whether Trani’s review of the Miranda warning was precisely in line with the “standard” text provided to officers on a card, and therefore whether it was sufficient to preserve Smith’s rights.

      “The Miranda warning is really, the person is entitled to have an attorney present ‘if they so desire,’ correct? Not if the court determines at some later date that they really need one.” Pendleton asked.

      “Isn’t there a place where you ask the suspect whether or not they understand the rights that have been explained to them?” Pendleton continued. “You didn’t ask that, did you? And you didn’t ask for an express waiver (of those rights).”

      Over the objection of Deputy County Attorney Ryan Shaum, Westfall said he would allow Pendleton to explore whether the language on the card is sacred enough that it must be used precisely in order to establish that a suspect has been sufficiently warned.

      Shaum asked Trani if he specifically asked Smith if he was willing to waive his Constitutional rights.

      “No, I did not,” Trani replied.

      Trani said he believed Smith was voluntarily waiving his rights in talking about the incident.

      “After I advised him of his rights, I actually said to him, ‘Now keep those in mind while you’re telling me your story,’” Trani said.

      Trani was the only witness to take the stand. Throughout the hearing, Smith – now with a beard – sat quietly next to Pendleton with his head bowed.

      Pendleton noted that defense attorney Larry Meyers arrived at the police station during the interview and claimed to represent Smith. Trani spoke with Meyers, but determined Smith had not asked to have Meyers represent him. Trani said he did not inform Smith that Meyers had come to claim a role in the case, and that Smith did not request a lawyer at any time during the five-hour course of the interview.

      Westfall said he will allow Pendleton until June 12 to present a written memorandum arguing why he thinks evidence of Smith’s statements to police should be suppressed. Shaum will then have time to respond and Pendleton will be allowed a final reply before a court hearing Aug. 5 to decide on the arguments.

      “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the defense’s arguments are going to be, Westfall said.

      A new trial date will be established after the August hearing.

      “Apparently, everyone is in agreement we’re not going to be able to try this case at the time it was scheduled,” Westfall said.


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