PROVO — Deciding which photos will be admissable at a high-profile murder trial is a little easier these days for 4th District Judge Fred Howard.
Howard said his involvement in the recently concluded John Vinanti trial prepared him to make decisions regarding photos of victims. Vinanti was convicted of first-degree murder following a trial that included numerous photos of the victim.
That experience was in play Tuesday for Robert Steven Hatch, who is charged with first-degree murder in the July 7, 2002 shooting death of Sharee Hatch. Howard ruled that approximately seven photos of the murder scene will be admissible at trial.
As in the Vinanti trial, Howard said he will not allow close-up photographs of the victim's body during Hatch's trial.
Deputy Utah County Attorney Dave Wayment said none of the photos are gruesome in nature, and they will only be used as evidence to link Hatch to the murder.
Wayment said he will crop one of the photos for decency. Howard also allowed a wide shot that shows the victim's body on the floor of the bedroom where she was killed.
According to police reports, Sharee Hatch died after a man broke into her home, kicked in her bedroom door and fired two close-range rounds from a shotgun. Sharee Hatch's live-in boyfriend, Michael Pino, said he was hiding in the closet at the time of the shooting and did not see the assailant.
Attorneys have questioned why police have not looked at Pino as a suspect in the case.
At Tuesday's pre-trial hearing, Howard gave Hatch's attorney, Jack Morgan, access to Pino's Adult Probation and Parole file. Morgan says he wants to know what Pino told his parole officer during a conversation that occurred shortly after the shooting.
Howard refused to allow Morgan access to Robert Hatch's truck. Morgan said he wanted to determine how much time it would take to drive Hatch's "worn-down truck" from Spanish Fork to Helper, some a 60-mile trip, which is where his client was living at the time of the shooting.
"The heart of that quest is to see if that car can make it," Morgan said.
Police were first notified of the murder at 11:36 p.m. on July 7, 2002. Officers found Robert Hatch's truck in Helper at approximately 12:44 a.m.
County prosecutors objected to testing Hatch's vehicle. They said the truck has been sitting in storage for about a year, and it will not perform the same as it did in July, 2002.
"We do not have the same truck to test," Wayment said.
The judge agreed to allow Hatch's truck to be displayed at the courthouse parking lot for the jury to inspect.