You probably couldn't help but be impressed by the Utah Supreme Court's recent display of judicial omniscience in the case of convicted murderer Wesley Allen Tuttle.
While President Bush is launching a fight to get dangerous criminals off the street, the state's high court seems to be doing its best to turn the streets over to murderers.Tuttle, who brutally stabbed a woman to death in 1983, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1984. The high court, however, overturned that sentence and ruled Tuttle was guilty only of second-degree murder, for which his sentence will be commuted to five years to life.
Tuttle's original sentence came under a section of Utah law that says a homicide, in order to qualify as first-degree murder, must be committed "in an especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or exceptionally depraved manner, any of which must be demonstrated by physical torture, serious physical abuse or serious bodily injury of the victim before death."
One might assume that repeated stabbing with a knife and the "serious bodily injury before death" that resulted would amply constitute cruelty. Not so, ruled the court.
Just because you decide to stab someone to death in a bloody frenzy doesn't necessarily make you exceptionally cruel.
In Tuttle's case, all he did was stab Sydney Ann Merrick seven times and leave her to bleed to death in her car. One little gruesome murder, and a jury wants to dub him cruel.
Not to worry. The Supreme Court came to the rescue.
Associate Justice Michael D. Zimmerman, in a brilliant display of legalistic bunk, stated that Tuttle would have had to have attacked his victim much more than what was necessary merely to have killed her. Seven stabs with a knife, apparently, is just kid's stuff.
"The record contains no evidence that Tuttle intended to do, or in fact, did anything but kill his victim by stabbing her," Zimmerman wrote. "Even though this method is gory and distasteful, there is absolutely no evidence that Tuttle had a quicker or less painful method available to him . . . or that he intentionally refrained from administering one wound that would have caused instantaneous death in favor of a number of wounds that would prolong the victim's life and suffering."
There, that ought to make you feel better. After all, it's not Tuttle's fault he only had a knife or that his victim wouldn't hold still long enough for him to plunge it into her heart on first try.
Under state law, justices ruled, they had no choice but to change Tuttle's sentence. The law simply is too vague, Zimmerman wrote.
It's too bad there was no video made of the murder. The pleas, screams and anguish of the victim as Tuttle's knife ripped through her flesh might have helped Supreme Court justices better understand the meaning of depraved, cruel, heinous and atrocious.
If Utah law, as currently written, can turn our Supreme Court justices into mental midgets, perhaps it's time to rewrite that law. Concerned Utahns can let Zimmerman know what they think of the court's ruling by writing to the Utah Supreme Court, room 332, State Capitol Building, Salt Lake City, UT 84114.
Oh, by the way, Tuttle could be up for parole later this year.