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Prosecutors dismiss capital murder case in '99 killing of University of Utah student

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6 2012 6:37 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A capital murder case against a man accused of murdering a University of Utah theater student in 1999 was dismissed Monday.

Donald Eugene Younge, 46, was charged with capital murder and nine other felonies in connection with an Aug. 3, 1999, death of Amy Quinton, 22. Prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss all of the charges because of concerns about the evidence.

"As we've proceeded through the case there have been inconsistencies that have surfaced," said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. "There were suppression issues (and) identification issues related to it and we decided … at this point, it made more sense to not proceed with this case."

In 1996, Younge was convicted by a jury of the rape and robbery of another U. student. He was sentenced to 31 years to life in prison for two counts of aggravated sexual assault and robbery. Gill said prosecutors also considered that when deciding to dismiss the unrelated murder case.

Judy Quinton said Tuesday that her family remains "convinced" that Younge killed her daughter, but they knew a few months ago that the case would likely be dismissed. She said they understand why prosecutors made the decision.

"We realize that without DNA evidence, there would not be a good case against (Younge)," Judy Quinton said. "The fact that he is already in prison and unlikely to ever get out so that he can't hurt anyone else makes us feel satisfied."

Defense attorney Michael Misner could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but has long declared Younge's innocence and argued that his client was only identified by witnesses when he was in the courtroom and was never picked out of photo lineups.

Younge had long been a suspect in Quinton's death, but wasn't charged until 2008. In a 2011 hearing, Erin Warn testified that she stopped by the apartment belonging to Quinton and Lynn Drebes at 127 S. 800 East to drop off her cat before an upcoming trip. She and Drebes were watching a movie when Drebes went to the kitchen for pizza.

Warn said she heard a scream and saw a man holding a knife to Drebes' throat. Warn said she immediately told Quinton to call 911. Quinton had just picked up the phone when the man came in and threatened to kill Drebes if Quinton didn't hang up.

Dispatchers called back and the intruder assured them that the 911 call was a mistake. Warn said the man then asked for their wallets and started to leave when Warn asked for her identification from her wallet.

She said the intruder walked back into the room and stabbed her and Quinton in the chest. She spent six days in the hospital. Quinton was killed.  

Warn identified Younge in court as the man who stabbed her.

The case was dismissed without prejudice, which allows prosecutors to refile charges later if they feel it is warranted.

"The homicide continues to be open and the case can continue to be prosecuted," Gill said. "We have an ethical and moral obligation to make sure that not only do we have the right person, but that we have the right evidence to win at trial. The worst injustice you can do is go forward on a case that has challenges and to press that point just for the sake of pressing the point."

Younge had been charged with 10 first-degree felonies: capital murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and three counts each of aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping.

Judy Quinton specifically thanked Salt Lake police detective Mark Scharman for all the work that he has done on the case and said prosecutors have been keeping them well-informed. The family isn't looking to the courts for justice, she said, because they have already come to peace with what happened.

"We have had closure for a long time and accept the situation," she said, pointing to the family's faith. "Our family is still intact and our daughter is still part of our family and we will be reunited again."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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