SALT LAKE CITY — The state's high court ruled Tuesday that a man who refused to testify against his co-defendant in a 1984 murder case should, in fact, stand trial for obstruction of justice.
The Utah Supreme Court ruling reversed previous rulings from both a 1st District judge and the Utah Court of Appeals when it found that Wade Garrett Maughan should stand trial for a single count of obstruction of justice. Maughan, 57, and Glenn Howard Griffin were both charged with murder in 2005 in connection with the 1984 killing of 22-year-old Bradley Newell Perry.
Maughan confessed to helping Griffin commit the crime and prosecutors sought to have Maughan testify against Griffin by offering Maughan immunity so that his testimony would not be used against him at his own trial, according to the ruling.
"Maughan objected, citing concerns with the constitutionality of the Utah Immunity Act and with the scope of the protection afforded him under the act," the ruling states. "The district judge in the Griffin case overruled these objections, issuing an order compelling Maughan to testify."
Still, Maughan refused and was subsequently charged with three counts of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. But Judge Kevin Allen found after a preliminary hearing that there was not sufficient evidence to show that Maughan was trying to hinder the prosecution so much as protect himself, according to the ruling. All three obstruction charges were then dismissed.
Allen's ruling was affirmed by the Utah Court of Appeals, which also found that the state failed to prove that Maughan intended to obstruct justice. While they did not agree with the argument that there were no facts to support the allegation that Maughan was attempting to hinder the prosecution, they found instead that Maughan "acted with the intent to protect himself."
The Utah Supreme Court, however, in its ruling written by Justice Thomas Lee, reiterated that there is a lenient standard afforded at the preliminary hearing level that requires the state to provide all "believable evidence of all the elements of the crime charged" and that the evidence be viewed by a judge in the light most favorable to the prosecution.
"We conclude that the state satisfied this standard here," Lee wrote. "It carried its burden of producing believable evidence that Maughan had been Griffin’s friend and thus may have sought to prevent his conviction."
While the high court found that Maughan could have acted both to protect himself against prosecution and to hinder Griffin’s conviction, it was ultimately a matter that should have been left to a jury.
"Perhaps a jury would ultimately agree with Maughan, concluding that 'the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the totality of the evidence is that Maughan acted in his own self-interest,' and not to hinder the prosecution of his friend Griffin," Lee wrote. "But in our view, the magistrate and the court of appeals jumped the gun in rendering their own assessment of these issues."
The court ruled that the dismissal of a single count should be reversed and sent back for trial in the district court.
Perry was working at a family-owned convenience store and gas station in Box Elder County when he was killed. He had taken on the graveyard shift to save money for college.
Perry was found stabbed and bound with an extension cord after some passing Utah State University students were suspicious of an especially attentive attendant who gave them a dollar bill with blood on it, and they alerted authorities. A DNA test of the blood years later led police to Griffin, and the case was reopened. Authorities alleged that Griffin and Maughan killed Perry in a robbery gone wrong.
Griffin was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 2008. Maughan was found not guilty of murder, a first-degree felony, following a trial in 2010.
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