Defense attorneys shouldn't be able to manipulate the capital penalty phase of a murder trial so the defendant gets life in prison instead of the death penalty, House members decided Tuesday in passing HB306.
Sponsor Rep. Dave Ure, R-Kamas, said only the judge and prosecution in a capital case should be allowed to veto a defendant's request that the judge, not the convicting jury, decide the penalty phase.Currently, the defendant, after being found guilty of capital murder, can pick either the jury or the judge to rule on the death penalty. Ure's bill would allow either the judge or the prosecution to veto the defendant's request to have the judge choose.
Several House members said the defense attorney in the capital case of the murder of a Utah Highway Patrol trooper in southeastern Utah knew the judge wouldn't sentence the 18-year-old defendant to death. So, the judge was selected over the jury, and the man wasn't executed.
Rep. Swen Nielsen, R-Provo, said he's come face-to-face with murderers and has asked himself if he could impose the ultimate penalty. "I decided I could," said Nielsen, who is a retired police chief.
Nielsen said he stood face-to-face with a young man who had slit his wife's throat and cut her unborn baby from her; face-to-face with Gary Gilmore and "heard the cries of pain" from relatives to Gilmore's victims; and knew first-hand the pain of having his own aunt murdered and had to deal with that trial as well.
But Rep. Tammy Rowan, R-Orem, said this last final decision that can be made by a defendant shouldn't be overridden by the prosecution. "This (decision) should finally rest with the defendant," she said.
Ure's bill passed 59-11 and now goes to the Senate.