A jury late Thursday found Lionel Michaud not guilty of murder and sent him home.
Ironically, Michaud would be in jail right now if a judge had gone along with an earlier plea bargain in which prosecutors had asked for a year in jail, intensive probation and up to $10,000 in restitution.Michaud, a former apartment manager, was charged with murder for the shooting death of John Spina, who disrupted a summertime barbecue last July.
The acquittal was an ironic conclusion to a series of decisions that have frustrated both defense attorneys and prosecutors in the case.
The jury felt that Michaud was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed John Spina. But two judges have previously indicated beliefs to the contrary.
During a preliminary hearing in October, 3rd Circuit Judge Dennis Fuchs said he felt self-defense was not an appropriate defense. The judge spent two weeks considering a motion to reduce the murder charge to manslaughter, but declined, saying it was an issue for a"I hope they can live with their consciences."
relative of shooting victim
Then in January, Michaud agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for prosecutors' agreeing to recommend he spend a year in jail rather than face a possible 15-year term in prison. The Salt Lake County attorney's office indicated that it preferred to allow the plea rather than risk the possibility of a jury believing the shooting was in self-defense.
But 3rd District Judge David Young refused to go along with the recommendation for jail instead of prison.
"I have the impression . . . that Mr. Michaud thought he was the building protector or something," the judge said in February. `This deserves more than one year in the county jail. I think there's more behind this."
Michaud was then allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to manslaughter and ordered to stand trial on the original charge of first-degree felony murder.
Wednesday, during the second day of trial, defense attorney Lynn Donaldson asked Young to dismiss the murder charge or reduce it to manslaughter, arguing that prosecutors had failed toprove Michaud intended to kill Spina.
Young declined, saying that was an issue for the jury.
Later Wednesday, Young apparently told the attorneys he hadn't heard enough evidence to allow them to instruct the jurors about the elements of self-defense - at least that was the impression of defense attorney Patrick Anderson.
And although the judge allowed the jurors to consider acquittal if they felt the shooting was in self-defense, he would not allow the jury the option of deciding if Michaud was guilty of negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor.
Young allowed the jurors to consider only murder, manslaughter or an acquittal. He apparently refused to have negligent homicide as an option, because he believed Michaud intended to kill, which is not an element of negligent homicide.