Time can't shield Rena Chynoweth from the consequences of her 1979 murder of Murray naturopath Rulon Allred, and to allow her to hide behind the ticking of a clock would be both "irrational and unjust," a federal judge ruled Thursday.
In her recent book, "Blood Covenant," Chynoweth admitted to gunning down Allred in his office May 10, 1979. After Chynoweth detailed the shooting in her book and on national TV, Allred's survivors slapped her with a $110 million wrongful-death suit.Chynoweth filed a motion in federal court seeking to dismiss the Allreds' suit, arguing that the two-year statute of limitations on the suit ran out nine years ago.
However, senior U.S. District Judge Aldon Anderson said in a written ruling that Chynoweth's lies about her role in the murder prevented her from using the statute of limitations as a defense against the civil suit.
"We are delighted with the ruling. This is a great Christmas present for the Allred family," said James W. McConkie, attorney for Allred's wife, Myrtle Lloyd Allred, and daughter, DorothyAllred Solomon.
Chynoweth's attorney, L.G. Cutler,doesn't consider Anderson's ruling to be the last word on the subject. He intends to bring up the statute of limitation issue in pretrial motions, he said.
"I think Judge Anderson's ruling can be interpreted to say the issue is open to further factual development," he said.
Prosecutors charged Chynoweth with Allred's murder in 1980, but a jury acquitted her after she lied about her involvement under oath and eyewitnesses failed to identify her as the killer. In her book, Chynoweth said she wore a disguise to kill Allred.
Chynoweth's attorney argued that the Allred family should have known 11 years ago that it had grounds for filing suit against Chynoweth when a Utah judge found enough evidence against her in a preliminary hearing to try her for murder.
But Anderson didn't see it that way. After a trial that included Chynoweth's perjury, 12 reasonable people found Chynoweth not guilty. Chynoweth and her attorney are unreasonable to expect the Allred family to ignore the not-guilty verdict and pursue a wrongful-death suit on the findings of a preliminary hearing alone, Anderson wrote.
Statutes of limitation "are designed to promote justice" by preventing the revival of claims after evidence has been lost, memories have faded and witnesses have disappeared, Anderson wrote.
Allowing Chynoweth to fend off justice by hiding behind the statute of limitations would be a misapplication of the statute, Anderson concluded. He cited case law that said that those who conceal their role in a crime cannot rely on the statute of limitations to protect them when their role is later discovered.
Anderson applied the discovery rule to the suit against Chynoweth, which says the statute of limitations begins running when an act is discovered, not when it is committed. Chynoweth's role in Allred's murder was not discovered until her book was published last spring.
McConkie hailed Anderson's ruling as the critical juncture in the suit. "We felt if we could get by Chynoweth's motion to block the suit because of the statute of limitations, we would be on track," he said.
The Allreds' suit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages from Chynoweth. "Proceeds from her book, future TV and movie rights or money the murderer Chynoweth receives from any source" could be awarded the Allreds if the family wins, McConkie said.
But Anderson's ruling also dealt a blow to the Allreds' case. Besides suing Chynoweth for the death of Rulon Allred, the Allred family accused her of violating state and federal racketeering laws. Chynoweth's motion contended the Allreds did not have enough evidence to sue her under civil racketeering laws.
Anderson agreed. He said both state and federal racketeering laws require the Allreds to prove a pattern of racketeering acts. Federal law requires at least two racketeering acts in 10 years plus the threat of future racketeering. The state version of the law calls for three acts.
The Allreds could point only to the murder of Rulon Allred to support their racketeering accusation.
"Plaintiffs have utterly failed to allege specific acts sufficient to satisfy the requirements" of racketeering, Anderson wrote. "We're obviously pleased with the judge's ruling that she isn't involved in conspiracy or racketeering," Cutler said.
McConkie greeted the ruling philosophically. "When we started this suit, we thought of every claim we could assert. We knew it was a rocky road and we wanted to end up standing. We're just glad we are still on our feet."