An attorney for author and confessed killer Rena Chynoweth argued in U.S. District Court Tuesday that a wrongful-death suit filed against Chynoweth should be dismissed because the statute of limitations for filing the suit ran out two years after Chynoweth gunned down Rulon Allred.
An attorney for the Allred family countered with the contention that the statute of limitations began running when Chynoweth's role as the killer was made public with the publication of her book "Blood Covenant," and not when the crime was committed in 1977.In her book, Chynoweth admits that she and three relatives shot Allred to death in his Salt Lake County office May 10, 1977. The state charged Chynoweth with the slaying in 1978, but a jury acquitted her after Chynoweth testified under oath that she knew nothing about it.
Witnesses could not identify Chynoweth as the killer. She disguised herself in a wig and heavy clothing when she entered Allred's office to kill him - a fact that became critical in Tuesday's hearing.
L.G. Cutler, Chynoweth's attorney, argued that any reasonable person should have known Chynoweth might have killed Allred when she was bound over for trial in 1978. A reasonable person would have filed a wrongful-death suit then, he said.
The Allreds' attorney, James McConkie, disagreed. A preliminary hearing is only a screening process and not the final word on a person's guilt, he said. "Certainly a person is entitled to rely upon a not-guilty verdict on its face and not go beyond that."
Anderson agreed. "You haven't taken out of my mind the weight to be given to a not-guilty verdict . . . and the impact that would have on a reasonable person deciding whether or not to file a lawsuit," he told Cutler.
Cutler supported his motion to dismiss by citing an Arkansas case where a wrongful death of a county prisoner was discovered 24 years after it was committed. The family filed a civil suit over the death. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the police officers involved in the incident - and who probably committed the crime - could not be sued because they had not been involved in the conspiracy to cover up the death, Cutler said. However, the court ruled the county attorney and sheriff could be sued because they conspired to cover up the crime.
Cutler argued that Chynoweth, like the police officers, could not be sued so many years after the slaying even though she committed it.
Anderson said Chynoweth's case was different than the Arkansas case. Although the police officers had also been tried and acquitted for the crime, they did not disguise themselves when they committed the crime.
Anderson suggested Chynoweth's disguise at the time of the killing constituted its own conspiracy to cover up her involvement in the crime.
The Allred family attempted to broaden their case against Chynoweth by also accusing her of racketeering. The suit contends Chynoweth's slaying of Allred, perjury at her trial, concealment of the crime and writing of the book constituted racketeering.
However, Anderson said McConkie had not proven a pattern of racketeering acts committed with the intent of perpetrating the original crime. He ticked off the crimes cited in the federal racketeering act - including gambling, arson, robbery bribery and murder - then said the only crime McConkie appeared to have substantiated was murder.
"We rely primarily on the wrongful death claim," McConkie said.
Allred was a naturopathic practitioner and leader of a polygamist clan. At the time of the killing, Chynoweth was married to outlaw polygamist leader Ervil LeBaron.