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Prosecutors tried to pick only Mormon jurors, attorney for death row inmate argues

Von Lester Taylor
Von Lester Taylor
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SALT LAKE CITY — A death row inmate who pleaded guilty to murdering two women at a Summit County cabin may be factually innocent, the man's attorney told the Utah Supreme Court Tuesday.

Von Lester Taylor is pursuing a third appeal of the death sentence handed to him by a jury in 1991. In 1990, Taylor and Edward Steven Deli broke into an Oakley cabin belonging to the Tiede family after having run from a halfway house.

Police say Taylor emptied his gun into the backs of Beth Potts, 70, and her 49-year-old daughter, Kaye Tiede. The two then shot Rolf Tiede, 51, and kidnapped two of his daughters then fled in a vehicle after setting the cabin on fire.

Court documents show that Taylor ordered Rolf Tiede to remove his clothes, took $150 from his wallet, and then shot him. For a while, Tiede played dead, but Taylor returned and shot him point blank in the head, doused him with gasoline and set him and the cabin on fire. Rolf Tiede survived the ordeal.

Deli was given a life sentence in prison.

On Tuesday, Taylor's attorney, Brian Pomerantz, said new evidence shows that prosecutors attempted to choose jurors belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and eliminate those who weren't when it came to Taylor's sentencing. He cited notes taken by prosecutors, which, inexplicably, ended up in the trial records and showed a juror ranking system.

"These charts are evidence of the prosecutors' fixation with religion," Pomerantz said.

But the Utah Supreme Court justices weren't necessarily convinced that the prosecutor's notes were evidence and not attorney work product. Not only that, but it's routine for attorneys to keep notes on potential jurors, Chief Justice Christine Durham said.

"You're keeping score on everything in a capital case," Durham said. "It's not improper to note those factors."

She said discriminating based on those notes may be a different story, though, prompting Pomerantz to say: "And that's what happened here." After the hearing, he declined to speculate as to what may have prompted prosecutors to seek LDS jurors.

He went on to say that he had a 2007 declaration from a man — who prosecutors pointed to as a crucial witness at sentencing — saying that the man was coerced into giving his testimony.

Assistant attorney general Erin Riley, though, said the case is "really just procedural issues at this point." She said that all of Taylor's claims either have been raised previously or could have been raised before.

"There hasn't been any denial of constitutional rights," Riley told the justices. "None of Taylor's claims are meritorious.

She said witnesses saw Taylor shoot Potts and Tiede and Taylor pleaded guilty to the crime basically making the factual innocence argument irrelevant to this hearing because this appeal really only applies to what happened at the penalty phase.

The evidence in the case pointing to Taylor was brought up by Justice Jill Parrish when it came to the factual innocence claim.

"There's evidence that was in the record that your client, in fact, fired a kill shot," Parrish said. "You have evidence that raises doubts, but it doesn't establish factual innocence."

It is unknown whether any family members of either Taylor or the victims were present at Tuesday's hearing. Riley said Rolf Tiede has since died and said some believe his death was as a result of the injuries he sustained in the shooting incident.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

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