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Abuse defense likely in slaying

DELTA — After she shot and killed her husband, prosecutors say Carole Alden dragged Martin Sessions' body out into the back yard behind their double-wide trailer where she had dug a grave.

Then she called 911 and told an emergency dispatcher that she had killed him. Police already knew, because they had been contacted by a friend of Alden's, whom she called after her husband's death. Deputies said he told her to call police and then made the call himself.

"When officers arrived at her home, they discovered Sessions' body in the back of the house, lying next to a large, grave-shaped hole," assistant Utah attorney general Thomas Brunker wrote in court documents obtained by the Deseret Morning News.

Under questioning by Millard County sheriff's deputies, Alden said she killed Sessions because he had physically abused her and threatened to kill her. Deputies said she shot him several times with a handgun.

"She told us she was in fear of her life and safety," Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker said at the time of the crime in July 2006.

In a murder case that sounds like the Dixie Chicks' song "Goodbye Earl," Alden's defense lawyer is expected to argue today that the Millard County artist suffers from battered-spouse syndrome.

Alden is scheduled to appear in Fillmore's 4th District Court today for a preliminary hearing. There, a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to make her stand trial for domestic violence murder, a first-degree felony; obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony; and desecration of a body, a third-degree felony.

According to search warrant returns obtained by the newspaper, police seized a Smith & Wesson .38-special handgun from the front porch and several spent bullets from inside the trailer home. In a car, deputies found a pawn shop receipt dated July 28, for $191.41.

"Possible purchase of handgun," Millard County Sheriff's Lt. Roger Young wrote in the search warrant return. Prosecutors believe Alden killed her husband the same day the weapon was purchased.

The search warrant indicates deputies were also looking for a letter from Carole Alden to her husband. In the home, deputies said they found a handwritten note that said "I'll be back to get more stuff." They also found a letter Martin Sessions wrote to his wife while he was in the Millard County Jail in 2003.

In court documents, prosecutors and Alden's public defender argue about how cooperative she was, indicating that she answered a few questions for police and even drew them a diagram of the crime scene.

Meanwhile, Millard County prosecutors are fighting to have Alden's defense attorney booted from the case because of a conflict of interest.

In 2005, Martin Sessions struck a plea deal in the West Millard Justice Court for a domestic violence assault charge involving a fight with Alden. He was ordered to attend anger management classes and pay a fine.

Sessions' attorney was James Slavens, who is now representing Alden.

"The mere appearance of impropriety, let alone the evidence ... should be reason enough for this court to disqualify Mr. Slavens," Millard County deputy attorney John Holliday wrote in a motion filed with the court.

The motion was denied by Judge Donald Eyre but then appealed by the Utah Attorney General's Office to the Utah Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals has denied the request. The Supreme Court is still considering it.

"The general public's reaction of having him represent Alden ... ," Brunker said in a recent interview.

Slavens is the only public defender for Millard County, court clerks said. Indeed, the population is so small that Eyre has ordered search warrant affidavits and probable cause statements by police sealed to prevent tainting the jury pool in this rural county.

Slavens declined to comment to the Deseret Morning News, but in court papers and hearings, he has fought against efforts to get him kicked off the case.

"The State's actions has the following effects which create tactical advantages," Slavens wrote in a motion filed in September. "1) Carole Sessions sits in jail, which allows them to monitor every word she speaks or writes; 2) creates doubts in her own mind about the adequacy of her attorney; 3) creates questions among the potential jury pool about the adequacy of her attorney and thus any defense; and 4) seriously jeopardizes the defendant's due process rights to gather evidence and prepare for her defense of this very serious matter."

In an Aug. 16 hearing, the judge defended Slavens to Alden, who appears simply to want a good lawyer.

"Well, he's done a very good job in the — short time that he's had," Eyre said.

"All right, but my concern is that I have adequate representation," Alden replied.

"I don't, as Mr. Holliday's indicated, I don't have any problem with Mr. Slavens' experience as a criminal defense attorney or his ability to adequately represent you in this matter," Eyre said.