Jorge Benvenuto's appeal to withdraw his guilty pleas to aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder for fatally shooting Zachary Snarr and wounding Yvette Rodier Evans was rejected Friday by the Utah Supreme Court.
Benvenuto, 21, had argued that he was depressed and confused when he admitted to the 1996 "thrill" shootings of the two teens near Little Dell Reservoir. He said the depression and confusion impaired his judgment to the point that he was incapable of entering a truly voluntary plea.He made the same argument in 1997 to 3rd District Judge Anne M. Stirba one month after accepting a plea bargain offered by prosecutors, who agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for the guilty pleas. Stirba rejected Benvenuto's motion to withdraw his pleas and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Benvenuto appealed to the high court. In writing the opinion for the unanimous court, Justice Leonard H. Russon agreed with Stirba's findings that Benvenuto's demeanor was consistent at all hearings and he never appeared to be disoriented or unable to comprehend the proceedings.
"There is no indication in the transcript of any indecision or equivocation regarding his plea decision, and Benvenuto never indicated to either the court or his counsel any feelings or conditions that would detract from his ability to enter a knowing and voluntary plea," Russon wrote.
Russon said Benvenuto simply exhibited normal emotions for someone agonizing over the decision of whether to go to trial and face a possible death penalty or agree to life in prison without parole.
"The unpalatable prospects Benvenuto faced would inflict some level of depression on most persons confronting the same," the justice said.
Snarr, 18, and Evans, 17, at the time, were both shot in the head while photographing the moon on the night of Aug. 28, 1996. Snarr died at the scene, and Benvenuto thought Evans was also dead. After shooting both victims he searched their pockets, taking Snarr's keys and fleeing in Snarr's car.
Evans, with bullet wounds to her head, leg, shoulder and torso, crawled to the highway where a passing motorist saw her and stopped. Police traced a car parked near the reservoir to Benvenuto, who was captured walking along railroad tracks in Lehi the night after the shootings.
When interviewed, Benvenuto confessed to the shootings and was shocked that Evans had survived. Benvenuto told investigators that he shot the two teens because he wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.