The hearsay rule: How it helped Roberto Miramontes Roman, who was acquitted of murder

Sentencing Wednesday on lesser charges in death of deputy

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 23 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

SPANISH FORK — When Roberto Miramontes Roman appears before a judge to be sentenced Wednesday, prosecutors will not vacillate about what they think the man deserves.

"We are absolutely recommending consecutive prison sentences," chief deputy Millard County attorney Patrick Finlinson said, for the man who was once facing capital murder charges in the killing of Millard County sheriff's deputy Josie Greathouse Fox.

Even though he once confessed to the killing, a jury acquitted Roman of aggravated murder in August. They found him guilty of lesser charges of tampering with evidence and possession of a dangerous weapon, third-degree felonies, following a week-long trial.

It was a verdict that sparked outrage by family members of the victim and by those in the law enforcement community. Finlinson said he avoided news reports for about a month after the trial ended.

"I was there," he said. "I knew what happened."

As the lead prosecutor on the case, he heard the jury's "not guilty" verdict on the murder charge loud and clear. 

"It was awful," Finlinson said. "It was a tough pill to swallow after all that we put into it." 

It was a case that went from routine to controversial when Roman took the witness stand and testified that Fox's own brother, Ryan Greathouse, was the one who shot and killed the deputy. Because Greathouse is now dead, prosecutors were left with only a written statement he gave to police shortly after the shooting. 

The case then shifted and hinged on two basic principles of law — one of them straightforward and the other a complex, often-misunderstood rule rife with exceptions and loopholes.

Ryan Greathouse's account, which Finlinson said would have largely supported prosecutors' theory of events, was ultimately ruled inadmissible as hearsay evidence and in conflict with the constitutionally guaranteed confrontation clause — rules implemented to protect the rights of the accused and help the jury get to the truth of the matter.

Without the Greathouse statement, jurors later said, they could not find Roman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Instead of a potential death penalty, Roman now faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The case

Few cases are "open and shut," but the case against Roman seemed like a formality. The day after Fox, 37, was shot and killed during a traffic stop, Roman — who had already been charged with the killing — confessed in a recorded police video. His fingerprints were on the AK-47 used in the shooting. He admitted to fleeing Millard County only to be arrested hiding in a shed in Beaver.

But when Roman took the witness stand during his murder trial 2 ½ years after the Jan. 5, 2010, shooting, his story completely changed. He testified that he had been in the car that Fox pulled over early that January morning, but he said it was Ryan Greathouse who pulled the trigger, not realizing the deputy was his sister.

"When it became clear that (Roman) was going to testify, we weren't sure who he was going to point to," Finlinson said, before listing off whom prosecutors suspected Roman might name as the guilty party. "(Co-defendant) Ruben (Chavez-Reyes), one of the officers, Ryan."

The problem for prosecutors was that Ryan Greathouse, 40, died of an accidental drug overdose just 4 ½ months after his sister was killed. His body was discovered in the bedroom of a Las Vegas apartment.

"So, blame the dead guy," Finlinson said in closing arguments. "Blame the guy who can't defend himself. Blame the guy who can't respond. Blame deputy Fox's dead brother," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, I think that's called adding insult to injury. Ryan Greathouse did not kill his sister."

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