PROVO — Photos of a physically battered Sharee Hatch figured prominently Tuesday at a pre-trial hearing for her estranged husband, who is accused of fatally shooting her.
Robert Steven Hatch showed no emotion as Deputy Utah County Attorney David Wayment showed witnesses pictures of Sharee Hatch's bruised face and body taken after an alleged domestic dispute involving the couple in April 2001.
Robert Hatch is charged with first-degree murder in the July 7, 2002, shooting death of Sharee Hatch at her Spanish Fork home.
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 a closet at the time of the shooting and did not see the assailant.
Responding to the photos during her testimony, Andrea Leek, a friend of Sharee Hatch, said, "No, those look better," when asked if she had seen injuries consistent with the photos. "She had a chipped front tooth. Her eyes were black."
Robert Hatch's attorney, Jack Morgan, strongly objected to the use of the photos throughout the hearing. He argued that prosecutors had not sufficiently identified the origin of the photos, making it impossible for witnesses to link them to a specific incident. Prosectors had indicated previously that the photos were taken by police after the 2001 fight.
Tuesday's hearing focused on Morgan's motion seeking to bar testimony about domestic violence between the couple. He argued that the two alleged cases of domestic abuse cited by prosecutors — one in 2001 and one in 1994 — were too spread out and differed significantly from the events involved in the shooting death.
Wayment argued that the incidents provide a motive for the slaying.
"I think what we are establishing today is if there is enough evidence to establish a pattern (of domestic violence) rather than an isolated incident," Wayment told Fourth District Judge Fred Howard.
Howard will use testimony from the hearing to decide whether allegations of prior domestic violence will be allowed as evidence at the trial.
Testimony from more than a dozen witnesses — mostly friends, family and co-workers who knew Sharee Hatch — painted differing pictures of Robert Hatch as both an abusive husband and as a victim of his wife's temper.
"She was frightened by his behavior," testified Sharee Hatch's divorce attorney, Don Winters, when questioned about Sharee Hatch's feelings toward her estranged husband.
"She slapped him many times," said friend Christine Christensen. "Usually it was Sharee who started it."
Morgan, who has raised questions publicly in the past about why police have not looked at Pino as a suspect in the case, asked witnesses about Pino's behavior and Sharee Hatch's relationship with him.
Prosecutors say they have focused on Robert Hatch because they have DNA evidence that links him to the slaying. They say a hunting mask found along a trail of shotgun parts near the home had traces of DNA matching Robert Hatch. They also say lab tests show a speck of blood found on a sock Hatch was wearing at the time of his arrest likely came from Sharee Hatch.
Howard said he will rule on the admissibility of testimony concerning previous domestic abuse — including the disputed photos — after receiving briefs from both sides the week of Sept. 15. The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 6.