Julia Hazel might yet test battered woman's syndrome as a defense for killing her husband, which would be a first in a Utah courtroom.
The highly publicized case, which has a new wrinkle every month, took another turn Tuesday.Hazel is now thinking about withdrawing her guilty plea to a reduced charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in 4th District Court. Her attorneys are researching the possibility that prosecutors violated a plea agreement because a police officer suggested in a pre-sentence report that Hazel go to prison.
Utah County prosecutors agreed Nov. 30 to recommend Hazel be sentenced as if the crime were a third-degree felony and that she not be incarcerated. Recommendations made to the judge are not binding.
C. Robert Collins, Hazel's attorney, could ask Judge Lynn W. Davis to set aside the report or the plea agreement in the next week.
"We could go to trial," Collins said.
Hazel expected to find out Tuesday whether she'd go to prison. But Davis, at Collins' request, postponed the hearing to Jan. 25. Hazel originally was charged with first-degree murder.
Hazel admitted to stabbing her husband, Larry G. Hazel, 32, in the chest with a kitchen knife after he beat and tried to rape her at their home near Spanish Fork on Feb. 19. Hazel says she was a victim of unrelenting physical and sexual abuse. She intends to use the controversial psychological disorder, battered woman's syndrome, as a defense if a trial is held.
Hazel, 30, pleaded to the lesser charge to avoid an emotionally draining trial and the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence. She also didn't want to see prosecutors put her 6-year-old daughter on the witness stand.
"We thought we had an agreement. We thought we had an agreement that could be implemented. From my client's point of view, that has been breached," Collins said.
A Department of Corrections Adult Parole and Probation pre-sentence report contained a police investigator's recommendation that Hazel go to prison, Collins said. The court holds the report confidential.
"It said she was a danger to the community because she killed someone," Collins said of the police officer's entry.
Collins said there's a question as to whether police should be considered the state of Utah. If case law in other jurisdictions bears that out, Collins could argue that the state violated the agreement to not recommend prison.
Deputy county attorney Phil Hadfield told the judge that prosecutors don't believe the agreement was broken. He declined to comment further after Tuesday's hearing.
Collins submitted to the court Monday a pre-sentence report compiled by his defense investigator, Craig McLachlan. The report describes Hazel as a lifelong victim of sexual abuse, beginning at age 3. She is currently employed and trying to regain custody of her three daughters. The report said prison would serve no constructive purpose for Hazel or society.