Thanks for your help! The Utah Senate voted to bring back justice to victims of heinous crimes by passing SJR14 with a 23-6 vote (more than the necessary 2/3 for a constitutional amendment.) It is now in the House and we need your help again. Please watch the above video, and read the following and then contact your Representative or the House main number (linked below) and ask them to vote for HJR14. If interested, you can get much more information, and answers to frequently asked questions, by clicking here: www.sjr14.com.
Our current justice system is broken. The death penalty in Utah has become a myth. Death row inmates are winning a war of attrition. The last murderer to be involuntarily executed in Utah was HiFi Shop murderer William Andrews in 1992. Please read this post, listen to the pleas of victims and help me by calling your legislator and asking them to support Senate Joint Resolution 14.
In 1988, Michael Archuleta and his prison buddy kidnapped Cedar City college student Gordon Church and put him in the trunk of a car, drove him to a secluded area and tortured him to death in a manner too shocking to relate here. Suffice it to say; afterwards Archuleta’s pants were soaked in his victim’s blood. Archuleta was convicted and sentenced to death. Twenty years later, his victim’s family members are still waiting for justice. Last week, his brother Kevin Church, pictured here, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of SJR14, a proposed Constitutional amendment to put an end to the frivolous manipulation of the present system that extends execution of the death penalty, and the suffering of these victims, for decades.
In 1986, Ralph Menzies kidnapped a young mother, Maurine Hunsaker, at a gas station, drove her to the Storm Mountain picnic area in Big Cottonwood Canyon, strangled her, and slit her throat. Menzies was convicted and sentenced to death. Twenty-two years later, his victim’s family members are still waiting for justice. Her son Matt also testified. The victim's mother, watching next to Matt, is worried she will die before she sees justice for her butchered daughter.
In 1990, Von Lester Taylor and a friend broke into a cabin in rural Utah and waited for the family to return. When they did, Taylor shot the grandmother and the mother, killing both. He shot the father in the face, set fire to the cabin, and, along with his friend, kidnapped the two daughters. Taylor pled guilty and was sentenced to death. Eighteen years later, his victims’ family members are still waiting for justice. The murdered women's daughter and sister, Barbara Noriega, testified before the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and Sentencing Commission, which voted to support the amendment. Joining them are the Utah Council on Victims of Crime, the Statewide Association of Prosecutors and the Utah Law Enforcement Legislative Committee.
Twelve years ago Jorge Benvenuto found two friends taking pictures up the canyon and murdered Zach Snarr, then turned his gun point blank on Yvette Rodier and shot her twice, then stood over her while he reloaded and shot her twice more. He later said he just wanted to watch someone die. Yvette survived and is now a powerful voice for justice to the victims of crime. Zach's mom, Sy, seen here, also turned her pain to service as a member of the Sentencing Commission.
These cases are typical. A majority of the men on Utah’s death row are there for murders committed in the mid-1980s. They have been granted extensive appeals. None is innocent, and yet our courts have effectively repealed the death penalty by refusing to follow Utah law. These cases take a terrible toll on victims, whose healing process is put on hold while lawyers litigate endlessly, and who are re-victimized time and again as those who murdered their loved ones, and whose convictions have already been upheld on appeal, are allowed to file one frivolous petition after another.and by allowing one frivolous appeal after another.
To right this wrong, my office has proposed a constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Curt Bramble (Senate Joint Resolution 14,) to bring justice back to the victims of horrible crimes.
The Utah Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA,) enacted by the legislature in 1996, was designed to allow courts to uncover serious trial and appellate errors, while at the same time curbing abusive appeals. Under the PCRA, any inmate is entitled to one lawsuit in state court to review his trial and appeal. After that, his conviction and sentence are final, subject to a few narrow exceptions, such as when new DNA evidence becomes available. However, the Utah Supreme Court has bypassed the PCRA. Invoking their constitutional authority, they have ignored the carefully drawn statutory exceptions to finality, allowing resourceful lawyers to litigate even frivolous claims for decades.
Senate Joint Resolution 14 is designed to restore balance. It proposes a constitutional amendment that, once adopted by the people, will require our courts to enforce statutory restrictions on post-conviction appeals, just as the United States Supreme Court and most state courts do.
The amendment will also protect the innocent. It guarantees that the legislature can never block a truly innocent inmate from proving his innocence in court.
Some argue that lack of funding is the problem, as if the way to curb litigation were to pay lawyers more to litigate. In fact, under the PCRA, lawyers representing death row inmates earn $125 per hour. Only one state — California — pays a higher hourly rate. In addition, death row inmates have access to unlimited state funds to investigate and present any potentially meritorious claims that our courts have not already rejected. Funding is not the problem.
Those convicted of crime deserve a fair trial, a direct appeal, and an opportunity to prove that their constitutional rights were denied in trial or on appeal. But at some point, a guilty criminal’s right to re-litigate his case must give way to the community’s right to finality and the victims’ right to closure. Our current system of endless appeals gives guilty inmates more process than they deserve, and innocent victims much less. The system is broken. We need this constitutional amendment to set the scales of justice back into balance.
Some in the media have misstated the purpose and intent of this legislation and vilified me and my office for bringing it. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of SJR14 and the whole Senate will likely vote on it next week. Please stand up for the victims of heinous crimes still waiting for justice and call your Senator.
Click here for a Legislative House District Map if you're not sure which district you live in:
Click here for information on how to contact your representative:
Or you can call the main number at the Utah State Houaw of Representatives at (801) 538-1029 and urge them to give to you, the people of Utah, the right to vote on a Constitutional Amendment that will ensure justice in Utah courts.
Mark L. Shurtleff
Utah Attorney General