Utah can't be held liable for the 1990 murders of two women by escapees from a halfway house because state law shields government from such liability, a state judge ruled Thursday.
Third District Judge Frank Noel dismissed a suit filed against the Utah Department of Corrections by the survivors of Beth Potts, 72, and her daughter Kay Tiede, 51. The two women were slain in a Christmastime shooting spree by two prison parolees.Allen K. Young, the family's attorney, said he will urge the family to appeal Noel's ruling to the Utah Supreme Court.
"I believe the judge made an error," Young said. "I think it is something the Supreme Court should look at. We're saddened and shocked, but until we see the ruling, we won't know what we are saddened and shocked about."
Court employees in Summit County mailed the five-page ruling to Young and the Utah attorney general Wednesday morning.
Tiede and Potts were gunned down Dec. 22, 1990, by Von Lester Taylor, then 21, and Steven Edward Deli, then 25. The two men walked away from the Orange Street Community Center - a halfway house for prison parolees - eight days earlier.
The killers surprised the Texas family when it returned to its Utah vacation cabin near Oakley, Summit County, after a shopping trip. Tiede's husband, Rolf, 51, survived two shots to the head and an attempt to set him on fire. The couple's two daughters were briefly kidnapped by the two killers as they fled police.
"It is clear that the (family) has suffered much as a result of the actions of Taylor and Deli," Noel said in his ruling. "The Legislature, however, has granted specific immunity to the state of Utah for such actions, and therefore the court has no choice but to grant the defendants' motion to dismiss."
Assistant Utah Attorney General Scott Call used the state's governmental immunity act to fend off the family's suit.
The state is immune from being sued for injuries that arise out of assault, battery, false imprisonment and other actions, Call argued in a recent hearing before Noel.
Young said Potts and Tiede weren't assaulted, they were murdered. Since the immunity act does not mention murder, the Legislature did not intend to immunize the government from claims arising out of murder, he countered.
But Noel sided with the state. "Murder is a criminal term whereas assault is a term that is used in civil law," he wrote. In the minds of state lawmakers the words meant the same thing, Noel said.
"The court does not feel that the Legislature intended to immunize the state in one case where the victim of an assault survives but to impose liability where under identical circumstances and in an identical type of assault the victim does not survive," he ruled.