A district court judge has rejected arguments from a Utah death row inmate and moved Von Lester Taylor one step closer to execution.
Third District Judge Frank Noel in a 46-page ruling rejected 25 claims Taylor raised, including such things as the alleged ineffectiveness of his attorneys at both the trial and appeal court levels, and the contention that the death penalty violates his constitutional rights because it is inconsistent with international law.
"I think it's a correct decision," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker, who represented Utah at this stage of Taylor's appeals process.
"Mr. Taylor pleaded guilty, the evidence against him was quite conclusive, it went to a penalty hearing, and a jury sentenced him to death. There's no issue of that actual guilt," Brunker said.
"This is standard, to raise as many claims as possible," Brunker said.
Taylor and Edward Steven Deli, who both were escapees from a prison halfway house, broke into a Summit County mountain cabin in 1990.
Once the owners arrived, Taylor fatally shot Beth Potts, 70, and her daughter, Kaye Tiede, 49. Taylor then shot Rolf Tiede, 51, who was injured but survived. Taylor and his companion kidnapped the Tiedes' two daughters and fled after setting the cabin on fire.
Rolf Tiede managed to get down the mountain on a snowmobile and notified police. Taylor and Deli were captured shortly afterwards.
Taylor pleaded guilty to two counts of capital homicide, and a jury recommended the death penalty.
As with all death penalty cases in Utah, it was automatically appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, which upheld the penalty. Taylor also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
In his most recent claims, Taylor particularly emphasized the decision of Elliot Levine, his trial court lawyer, not to introduce mental health information that might have provided mitigating evidence that could have saved Taylor from the death penalty.
However, psychological evaluations of Taylor depicted such things as his drug use and his involvement with witchcraft and Satan worship, including drinking animal blood.
Christine Durham, a Supreme Court justice in 1997 and now the high court's chief justice, wrote in a Supreme Court ruling that year that "Levine quite plausibly decided that Satanic worship and blood drinking did not comport to the 'boy next door' image he hoped to portray."
Richard Mauro, Taylor's defense attorney at this stage, said the case will ultimately be appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, and it is possible that steps may be taken in lower courts as well.
"The court (in this ruling) fails to address some very significant and important cases from the U.S. Supreme Court that, if applied to this case, would help my client and give him, at the very least, a new penalty phase and perhaps a new trial," Mauro said.
"The real problem with the case is that my client didn't have a fair penalty phase. There was considerable information that was neither investigated nor presented to the jury that absolutely would have changed the outcome," Mauro said.
"The co-defendant, Edward Deli, received a life sentence, and he went to trial," Mauro said.