Utah's two appeals courts have good news for two men convicted of murder and a third man convicted of rape.
The Utah Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction of David Franklin Young and reduced the murder conviction of Robert W. Dunn. The Utah Court of Appeals sent the rape case against Bojider Beorgiev Bakalov back to a state judge to explain decisions she made in the trial or grant a new trial.The Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Young, who has been sentenced to die for the 1987 murder of Ember Kimberly Mars. The court reduced Dunn's second-degree murder conviction to reckless manslaughter for his role in the 1980 shooting death of Ernest Sprinkle.
The appeals court asked a lower court to review the Bakalov case and decide if he should get a new trial.
David Franklin Young
In a 143-page opinion released Thursday, three of the five Utah justices said 3rd District Judge Timothy Hanson made serious errors during Young's trial.
Hanson should have dismissed a jury candidate who said he would not consider a life prison term instead of a death sentence for a defendant guilty of a malicious, planned murder.
Young was forced to use one of his limited chances to excuse the candidate without cause.
Second, Hanson should have allowed the jury to consider a verdict of guilty and mentally ill, Justices Christine Durham, Michael Zimmerman and I. Daniel Stewart ruled.
They said Hanson erred when he denied Young a chance to talk to the jury before it began deliberating.
Jurors may have re-evaluated evidence about Young's mental abilities and brain damage if they heard him speak, Durham wrote. The statement he wanted to make also indicated remorse, she said.
"At the very least, the jurors would have had the opportunity to be confronted by him as a person, with a personal voice and a personal story, before making the decision to permit life or impose death," she wrote.
Prosecutors can appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mars, 27, was found dead in her apartment Aug. 19, 1987. Young was arrested in Illinois 10 days later driving Mars' truck.
Three weeks before Mars' murder, Young had beaten his estranged wife to death in Indiana. He was on parole then for the 1982 beating death of a fiancee in Illinois.
He is now in prison in Indiana, serving a 35-year sentence.
Dissenting from the majority opinion Thursday were Chief Justice Gordon Hall and Justice Richard Howe.
Bojider Beorgiev Bakalov
Bakalov is a Bulgarian native who came to Utah in 1990 to study thoracic medicine. He met the victim after telling her friend that he was looking for a typist. The two met several times over five days to work on his resume.
On April 6, 1991, the two went for a drive in his truck. Bakalov claims the two engaged in consensual sex. The woman claims Bak-a-lov raped her.
Bakalov repeatedly asked to represent himself during his arraignment, preliminary hearing and trial. Third District Judges Richard Moffat and Leslie Lewis denied those requests during each of the proceedings before them.
Bakalov continued to make the request, writing each judge a letter.
Lewis told Bakalov that he didn't know English or the American justice system well enough to represent himself.
However, Appeals Court Judge Pamela Greenwood ruled that the right to defend oneself is guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment. A defendant's wish to conduct his own defense must be honored out of "that respect for the individual, which is the lifeblood of the law," Greenwood wrote, quoting the Supreme Court.
The Utah Constitution also guarantees a defendant the right to defend himself.
A judge has a responsibility to make sure a defendant knows the risks of defending himself before he decides to, Greenwood said.
Once a judge is sure a defendant knows the risks, he cannot prevent a competent defendant from representing himself, Greenwood wrote.
Judge Gregory Orme concurred, but noted, "It is clear to me that the defendant was in better hands with appointed counsel than if he had set about to defend himself."
Judge Norman Jackson dissented.
Robert W. Dunn
The Supreme Court reduced Dunn's conviction from second-degree murder with the blessing of state attorneys.
Assistant Attorney General Christine Soltis conceded that the trial judge had improperly instructed the jury about the elements of second-degree murder. She suggested that the second-degree murder charge be reversed and the reckless manslaughter charge imposed.
The court concurred. Dunn was also charged with kidnapping. That charge remains.
Dunn is serving a life sentence for the murder and kidnapping charges. However, the court's decision may shorten his prison term. Second-degree murder carries a penalty of five years to life. The current manslaughter charge carries a penalty of one to 15 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.