A Salt Lake man once charged with two counts of capital homicide for killing a father and his son may now be allowed to plead guilty to reduced charges of aggravated assault.
First-degree murder charges were filed in June against Richard Gabaldon, 20, in connection with the June 9 stabbing deaths of Donald Newingham, 39, and his 18-year-old son, Shane Newingham, both of Salt Lake City. The charges were reduced to second-degree murder following a July preliminary hearing.Gabaldon apparently will be allowed to plead to the reduced charges on the condition that he truthfully testifies against his friend, Fred A. Alvarez, a 17-year-old who could face the death penalty if he is found guilty of two counts of capital homicide.
The ex-wife and mother of the victims, Jodi Tillett, said she was told about the potential plea arrangement Thursday evening. She said the decision to allow Gabaldon to plead to lesser charges upsets her, but does not surprise her.
"It goes back to the old cliche that victims have no rights," she said. "You're screwed. The judicial system does what it wants."
Tillett said she was told the case against Alvarez would be much stronger with Gabaldon's testimony. But she said she has a difficult time knowing if it's the right thing.
"In my heart, I don't know. But in my head, I'm trying to believe it," she said. "What . . . do you do? He (Gabaldon) didn't hold the knife so they say they can't convict him as easily."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys refused to confirm or deny the plea arrangement. Bud Ellett, chief of the justice division of the Salt Lake County attorney's office, would only "confirm there is a negotiation that is predicated upon (Gabaldon) testifying at the trial."
During a Friday afternoon hearing before 3rd District Judge Richard Moffat, attorneys carefully avoided all references to the plea bargain and asked the judge to discuss it in his chambers, outside the presence of spectators and news reporters.
Despite objections from the press, the attorneys, defendants and a court reporter met with Moffat in his chambers and apparently discussed the plea arrangement. The judge declined to allow the Deseret News to review the court reporter's notes until Tuesday.
"Certain matters ought to remain on the record silently until Tuesday morning when we start the case," he said. "Any excess publicity could be detrimental to the process of picking a fair and impartial jury."
The Newinghams were killed during a fight that began after Donald Newingham was denied entry to a party at Gabaldon's Salt Lake home. Prosecutors say Alvarez stabbed and killed the Newing-hams with an 8-inch hunting knife, but Gabaldon is the one who threw the first punch.
In an earlier hearing, Salt Lake County deputy attorney Kent Morgan said Gabaldon also stomped on both victims' heads so hard that he hurt his foot. After Gabaldon was arrested, he told a detective he hurt his foot "when I kicked that guy," according to court documents.
Defense attorneys Andrew Valdez and Candice Johnson said that statement was made before Gabaldon was read his Miranda rights and asked Moffat to suppress it. They also filed a motion to suppress another statement he allegedly made to a witness who was standing over the two bodies after the fight occurred.
Court documents said Gabaldon yelled out his front door, "Get those . . . white punks out of here."
"The statement was made about two minutes after the fight ended, and the two victims were lying dead in the street," Morgan wrote. "The statement evidences Mr. Gabaldon's callousness toward the fight and killing of the victims at the time of the incident."
The proposed plea bargain is expected to be completed Tuesday morning before jury selection in the trial begins.