SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday that a Springville man was not confused when he pleaded guilty to murdering his aunt.
The majority opinion written by Justice Christine Durham found that Damien Candland both "knowingly and voluntarily" entered the guilty plea and understood that he was waiving his right to appeal. The decision upheld a previous ruling by 4th District Judge James Taylor.
Candland, 25, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, in the death of Amy Candland, 41. Her body was found in Hobble Creek Canyon east of Springville on Feb. 21, 2010. Police said she had been beaten, raped and strangled.
Prosecutors were threatening to seek the death penalty, but the punishment was taken off the table in exchange for the man's guilty plea. They also agreed to drop additional charges of rape, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.
Candland was eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole, but first penned a letter to Taylor saying that he didn't know what he was doing when he accepted the plea deal.
"I only had a week to make a decision for the rest of my life, under all the anxiety, stress and whatnot. I was confused about what I was doing," Candland wrote.
He went on to say that he felt he "can have a chance of beating this case." He wrote a second letter days later saying that he wanted to "continue fighting" and expressing frustration with his attorneys.
New attorneys were appointed in the case, but Taylor still denied Candland's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, determining that Candland was not confused or misled when he entered his plea.
Candland appealed, arguing that he did not "understand the relation of the facts to the law" and was "misinformed and confused about his right to appeal," the ruling states.
The high court justices said they "owe deference" to the judge who accepted the plea as that judge is in a better position to determine a defendant's understanding of the plea agreement. In this case, they agreed with the judge that Candland had been adequately informed of both the nature of the charges he was pleading to and the limited rights of appeal.
"The district court also reasonably concluded that Mr. Candland entered his guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily," Durham wrote. "We affirm the conviction and sentence."