SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah death row inmate convicted in a double murder and kidnapping at a family's remote cabin argued Thursday that he's innocent and should get a new hearing to show the case against him was tainted.
Von Lester Taylor's lawyers said he was there that day, but his partner fired the shots killed that killed two women after the pair broke into the Summit County cabin three days before Christmas in 1990.
The men kidnapped two sisters after killing their mother and grandmother, then shot the girls' father in the head, doused him with gasoline and set the house on fire, prosecutors said. The father survived.
Taylor and his partner Edward Deli, parolees who had walked away from a halfway house, were captured after a high-speed chase.
Death-row appeal lawyers contend Taylor was misled about the state's case when he pleaded guilty to killing both women.
"He really knew in essence absolutely nothing about what the evidence was and what was going on," said attorney Brian Pomerantz.
Taylor's lawyers argue that the murder victims, Beth Potts and Kaye Tiede, were killed by shots from a .44 Magnum gun that Deli had been carrying, not the .38 Special that was Taylor's weapon.
Taylor, now 51, chose not appear at the Thursday hearing, his lawyers said. It was held so U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell can consider whether lawyers can lay out their evidence that he was wrongly convicted. They say a medical examiner jumped to conclusions about what killed Kaye Tiede and the testimony of daughter Linae Tiede Coats shows the shots Taylor fired at her mother weren't fatal.
Coats said outside the courtroom that she still suffers from post-traumatic stress after that violent day 26 years ago, and the idea of testifying again makes her angry.
"He said, 'Every time I kill someone, it still messes with my head.' He pointed to his big, fuzzy head,'" she said. "He's guilty."
State attorneys said that Taylor was behind much of the violence that day, and Deli was surprised when he started shooting people.
During a 1991 trial, Coats, then a Utah State University student, testified that Taylor "walked over to my mother and pulled the trigger on his gun." She then told jurors she watched as Taylor shot her blind and partially immobile grandmother.
"I see a bullet go right into her throat and see her gasp for air," she testified.
Assistant Utah Attorney general Erin Riley contends there's no reason to hold a new hearing. Even if he didn't fire the shots, Taylor would still be guilty because an accomplice is considered equally responsible for a crime under Utah law.
"If, for some reason, we went to an evidentiary hearing, we'd put on tons of evidence of his guilt," she said.
Deli went to trial and got life in prison. Taylor was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to two counts of capital murder.
Campbell did not immediately rule on whether to set a new evidence hearing.