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Matthew David Stewart's attorneys want judge to declare death penalty unconstitutional

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 3:21 p.m. MST

OGDEN — Attorneys for an Ogden man accused of opening fire on police officers, killing one and injuring five others, have filed a motion arguing that Utah's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

In the motion filed in 2nd District Court, attorneys for Matthew David Stewart, 38, argue that the current Utah law essentially makes it impossible for someone convicted of aggravated murder to avoid the death penalty.

"Although the law does not specifically state that a death sentence is mandatory for an aggravated murder, the sentencing scheme as set forth … clearly indicates that if a jury were to follow the law as promulgated by the Utah Legislature, they would have no choice but to sentence an individual to death once convicted of an aggravated murder," a memorandum in support of the motion states.

There are a number of aggravating factors a jury must find are present before sentencing someone to death. At sentencing, a jury is asked to weigh those aggravating factors against mitigating factors.

Though Stewart is described as "a youthful defendant with no history of prior criminal activity," his attorneys believe that is not enough to overcome the aggravating factors of murder.

"The Utah Legislature has therefore enacted a law that would dictate that a life sentence is only allowed through an act or series of acts that are impossible to achieve," the memorandum states.  

They contend this is a violation of due process rights afforded in both the U.S. and Utah constitutions. The motion asks Judge Noel Hyde to find the Utah death penalty unconstitutional.

Stewart is charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense; seven counts of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; and production of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony; in the Jan. 4, 2012 shooting at his Ogden home.

Ogden police officer Jared Francom was killed and five other officers were also shot and injured during the melee when the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force showed up at Stewart's home to serve a search warrant.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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