Thursday, February 19, 2009


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:

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of our greatest president and my personal hero, I offer here three insights for our motivation and enlightenment:

He Was a Man of Sorrow.

Abraham Lincoln was raised in extreme poverty; he learned the value of hard work, perseverance and independence, which formed his personal politics of individual liberty and free market capitalism. He truly was a man acquainted with grief. His mother died when he was 9, his dear older sister in childbirth, and two beautiful sons at the tender ages of 4 and 11. He said of his mother, “All that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother.” He faced these challenges with courage and aplomb and the hardships made him stronger and prepared him to lead the nation through a terrible civil war where brother killed brother, and his example set the stage for healing when the fighting finally ended.

Dr. Jerome Walker, of Brooklyn, was showing President Lincoln through an army hospital visiting wounded Union soldiers. When they came to three wards occupied by sick and wounded Southern prisoners, the doctor said: “Mr. President, you won't want to go in there; they are only rebels.' Lincoln stopped and gently laid his large hand upon his shoulder and quietly answered, 'You mean Confederates!' He said that the president was “just as kind, his hand-shakings just as hearty, his interest just as real for the welfare of the men, as when he was among our own soldiers.”

His Laughter was the Best Medicine.

Lincoln was famous for his wit and self-deprecating humor. His earliest know writing was a funny poem he wrote in his teens in his school primer:
“Abraham Lincoln
His hand and pen
He will be good but
God knows when.”

At 20 he was elected Captain of the New Salem Militia, sworn in by a regular army Lt. Jefferson Davis, and fought in the Black Hawk War. Although nearly six feet four, Lincoln “tended to walk with a slouch in those days.” His colonel was less than five feet. The colonel reprimanded Lincoln for his poor posture. “Come, Abe, hold up your head; high, fellow!” Lincoln held his head high and stretched his neck and said, “So, sir?” The colonel said, “Yes, fellow, but a little higher. Lincoln asked, “And am I always to remain so?” When the colonel said yes, Lincoln looked down at him with a sad look and said, “Then good-bye, colonel, for I shall never see you again.”

In the midst of the presidential campaign, Senator Douglas called Lincoln a “two-faced man.” Lincoln replied: “I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”

He Put Principle Above Politics.

His own words inform us of a character to emulate

“You may burn my body to ashes, and scatter them to the winds of heaven; you may drag my soul down to the regions of darkness and despair to be tormented forever; but you will never get me to support a measure which I believe to be wrong!”

“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.”

“If ever I feel the soul within me elevate and expand to those dimensions not wholly unworthy of its Almighty Architect, it is when I contemplate the cause of my country, deserted by all the world beside, and I standing up boldly and alone and hurling defiance at her victorious oppressors. Here, without contemplating consequences, before High Heaven, and in the face of the world, I swear eternal fidelity to the just cause, as I deem it, of the land of my life my liberty and my love. And who, that thinks with me, will not fearlessly adopt the oath that I take. Let none falter, who thinks he is right, and we may succeed. But, if after all, we shall fail, be it so. We still shall have the proud consolation of saying to out consciences, and to the departed shade of our country’s freedom, that the cause approved of our judgment, and adorned of our hearts, in disaster, in chains, in torture, in death, we NEVER faltered in defending.”

Abraham Lincoln’s example, words and principles are as relevant and instructive today during our current economic crisis as they were during his life. This from Time columnist David Von Drehle:

“Lincoln lived through two major economic crashes, in 1837 and 1857, and he learned some timeless lessons. He foresaw, in the Union he struggled to preserve, an open, competitive, capitalist, enterprising nation, tied together by rapid transportation and communication. He believed that government had a leading role to play in building the infrastructure of a growing economy. But the guiding principle for all of it, the whole reason for the nation's being, was that "equal chance" — the humble citizen's right to get ahead. Lincoln understood that economic freedom was the bedrock of political liberty. One is not possible without the other...Lincoln exhorts us to take risks. Bet on America. But never lose sight of the goal: economic freedom for individuals — the right to rise and prosper." What Would Lincoln Do? Time magazine, 2/9/09.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I was privileged to speak at a press conference today to announce the winners of the Battle for the Billboard 2009 Internet Safety Campaign orchestrated by Communities for Decency. High school students from around the state were challenged to create an original art piece and slogan which effectively illustrates the dangers of the Internet and/or safety tips on how to stay safe while online.

My Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force continues to lead the nation in arrests and convictions of Internet predators and child pornographers, but education remains a vital part of protecting children from harm. This poster contest was the brainchild of Communities for Decency President Cindy Moreno, and the winner's poster will be made into a billboard and placed on I-15 by Young Electric Sign Company.

L-R Phoebe Jarman, Me, Josh Meyer

I was pleased to recognize and honor First-place winner Phoebe Jarman from Diamond Fork High School in Spanish Fork and Second-place winner Josh Meyer from San Juan High School in Blanding. Their creativity and artistic talent will go a long way to educate their peers about Internet safety.

Phoebe's poster and slogan "Don't Fall for the Mouse Trap" brought to mind the assembly I have given to tens of thousands of Utah students pointing out that they can never be hurt unless they use their "mouse" to send out personal information or receive harmful solicitations or pornography. We speak of Internet "predators" and every child knows what a predator in the wild is. I remind them that even their family kitty cat is a predator. My sweet fluffy Sneakers, Jasper and Boots will often bring home a mouse. For a while they will "play" with the mouse, batting it around and tossing it in the air. One would think it is all fun and games, like the old cartoon Tom and Jerry, but in real life, our cats are deadly serious and in the end will kill the mouse.

Your child is a mouse to the Internet predator who will toy and play with your child, leading them into a false sense of security, manipulating their emotions, deceiving them into believing that they have a friend who understands their problems at home or at school, and promising friendship, understanding and validation. But the predator has but one true goal: luring your child into a false sense of security so they can ultimately hurt them.

Congratulations to Phoebe, Josh and Third-place winner Melinda Black. Your creativity and civic involvement might in fact save lives!

For great, age appropriate lessons, games and ideas on how to be safe on the Internet, visit and