A judge dismissed a capital murder charge Friday against one of four inmates accused of viciously killing a fellow prisoner.
But the other three were ordered to stand trial and face a potential death penalty.Defense attorney Edward Brass successfully asked the judge to dismiss the charge against Paul Richard Payne because his involvement in the stabbing melee likely occurred after the inmate had already died.
Lonnie Blackmon was assaulted and stabbed 67 times inside the Central Utah Correctional Facility on July 6. During the attack, officer Richard Whimpey said he saw Payne reach out from the bars of a shower, grab Blackmon's legs and pull him toward the shower.
Two other witnesses said they didn't see Payne participate.
Brass said that even if his client did grab Blackmon, that action "in no way advances the death of Mr. Blackmon . . . Blackmon was immobile at that time, unconscious and very likely dead."
Although several video cameras captured the entire incident, prosecutors from the Sanpete County attorney's office and the Utah attorney general's office chose not to show the tapes during the
two-day preliminary hearing. The judge, therefore, had to rely on the somewhat conflicting testimony concerning Payne's role.
Witnesses said it was Troy Michael Kell who did all of the stabbing and also slashed the victim's jugular vein with a homemade knife.
But inmates Eric Thomas Daniels and John Fredrick Can-nis-traci also face capital murder charges because they helped hold the victim while Kell inflicted the stab wounds, according to court testimony.
Prison program coordinator Celeste Denton said the slaying upset her so much that she threw up afterward. "I wish I couldn't remember," she said Friday.
Prosecutors have implied that the four inmates had previously plotted the slaying, with each inmate playing a role.
"It was not happenstance that Mr. Payne was in that shower," said Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed.
Both Payne and Cannistraci requested that day that the guard let them shower in the first-floor showers, even though they were housed on a different floor.
Also, in a question not addressed during the preliminary hearing, Kell somehow obtained a handcuff key and unlocked his cuffs just before attacking Blackmon. Daniels immediately joined the assault and held Blackmon, witnesses said. The assault then moved toward Cannistraci's shower, where he reached through the bars and also held onto the victim.
It is also unknown where the homemade knife came from.
Defense attorneys asked questions, wondering if the knife could have come from Blackmon or from another inmate in one of the cells near the scene of the attack. Witnesses only testified seeing the knife in Kell's hand sometime after the assault began.
But Brass argued against the plot theory, reminding the judge that Whimpey said it was solely his decision when the inmates would shower and where to let them do so, and he didn't inform other inmates of his plans.
Corrections officer Lewis Harris testified that Blackmon was wearing a blue ban-danna at the time of the attack. He said such clothing is prohibited because it is gang-related. It is unclear if gang affiliations played a role.
While no testimony was given indicating racial tensions, several sources have told the Deseret News that the slaying was indeed racially motivated. At least one defendant is believed to be a white su-premacist and may have attacked Blackmon because he was black. Prison officials, however, have downplayed such reports.
Sixth District Judge Don Tibbs ordered the three inmates to appear for an arraignment Oct. 26 before Judge David Mower.