John Blanchard may get out of prison some day even though four jurors thought he deserved the death penalty.
Blanchard, 52, was the benefactor of a split jury Tuesday at the end of his capital murder trial for strangling his ex-wife, Patricia Ann Blanchard.Some Utah women see Blanchard's sentence of life with parole as an affront to their gender.
Luci Malin, state president of the National Organization for Women, was appalled by the jury's decision.
"(The sentence) trivialized the violence," she said. "There was ongoing violence in their marriage and in the end tragedy. It's outrageous."
Rep. Loretta Baca, D-South Salt Lake, broke into tears when she heard that Blanchard, who after confessing to the murder told police he had no regrets, would be eligible for parole.
"I'm not too happy about that because I knew Patti," said the legislator, who has made ending domestic violence her personal crusade. "The verdict gives the message that domestic violence still isn't taken serious."
Patricia Blanchard had called Baca just to talk after hearing the representative speak on domestic violence. Later she volunteered to help Baca in her struggle against spousal abuse.
Though neither Baca nor Malin believe Blanchard deserves the death penalty they said he doesn't deserve parole.
Most jurors refused to comment after deliberating nearly three hours. But one told court observers four of the 12 members wanted the death penalty. Two others were "adamant" they wouldn't send Blanchard to the execution chamber, the juror said.
The seven-man, five-woman panel also could not agree on whether Blanchard should have been sentenced to prison without the chance for parole. So, under Utah law, Judge Pat Brian had no choice but to order Blanchard to prison with the possibility of freedom.
The sentence was the most lenient Blanchard and his attorneys could have expected.
"This is a victory for us. This gives him a chance for a life in the future. And I think it underscores what we've said all along - that good people do bad things sometimes," said defense attorney Jerry Mooney.
Another juror who did not want to reveal her name was frustrated after deliberations. "The justice system doesn't work . . . the law narrows our options too much. I'm disappointed."
The juror refused to comment further or say whether she agreed or disagreed with the final outcome. "It's been a long proceeding, and I'm too tired to talk about it."
The jury heard dozens of witnesses during the month-long trial, including Blanchard's two children, ages 13 and 14. Both testified they still loved their father and didn't want him to be executed.
Prosecutors Robert Adkins and Terry Christianson responded that Blanchard deserved the death penalty because he committed burglary and/or rape in the process of killing Patricia.
Both crimes are listed in Utah law as aggravating circumstances that can allow a jury to assign the death penalty to a defendant.
"I submit that the aggravating circumstances are like a brick in this case compared to a feather of mitigating circumstances. When you put the brick on the scales of justice, the feather can't even make it move," Adkins said in closing arguments.
Although Blanchard escaped death (no man in Utah history has ever been sentenced to die for murdering his wife) and will possibly get parole, he is the first Utah man in 20 years convicted of aggravated murder for killing an ex-spouse.
Patricia Blanchard's family emphasized that point after the trial.
"If one thing good can come out of this for Patty, it is that her death by a divorced husband of 2 1/2 years by spousal abuse is murder and should be treated as murder," said her father, La Mar Coon.
But Baca said Blanchard's sentence sends the chilling message that society accepts domestic violence. "Men know who they can beat up because they know they can get away with it," she said.
Patricia was in bed just after midnight Sept. 15, 1995, when Blanchard broke into her home, crept up the stairs in stocking feet and choked her to death, according to court testimony.
Blanchard scrawled on a piece of paper after his early morning arrest, "For months I planned to kill her. I did it tonight. NO REGRETS!" He later told police several hundred people in Park City probably wondered why he didn't kill his ex-wife sooner.
Testimony from the stand suggested Blanchard's daughter, who was 13 at the time, stood outside the door as he killed her mother in a violent 20-minute struggle.
The girl said from the stand two weeks ago that she heard her father tell her mother, "Die, b----. I'm going to kill you."Comment on this story
She said she was still scared of her father but wanted to decide on her own if she would have a relationship with him in the future.
Coon and his wife, Shirley, are now the legal guardians of the Blanchards' two children and pray they can help the kids recover from the tragedy.
"Shirley and I are at an age in our lives when we were getting ready to take it easy, but we are going to raise the children to be useful and productive citizens of this great country. God, please grant us the longevity, health and strength to make it happen," Coon wrote in a letter to some media three days ago.
Coon gave up his job as a manufacturer's representative after his daughter's death to help his wife raise the two children. He was to retire June 3 after 50 years of service to his company.