Although more than four years have passed since Charles Nicholas Strain's first murder trial, the verdict and sentence haven't changed - guilty and five years to life in prison.
A 4th District Court jury Wednesday found Strain guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Deanna Jane Dean, in June 1981. Deer hunters found Dean's partially decomposed body on Oct. 17, 1981, in a remote area of Spanish Fork Canyon.This was Strain's second trial on the charge. He was convicted of the crime in September 1986, but the verdict was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court because the jury was allowed to hear a confession that should not have been admitted. But even without the confession as evidence it still took the five-man, three-woman jury only a little more than two hours to find Strain guilty a second time.
Strain, 56, showed no emotion when the verdict was read. He waived the two-day waiting period and asked Judge George E. Ballif to impose the sentence immediately. Strain's attorney, Jay Fitt, asked Ballif to include in the sentence credit for time Strain has already served. Ballif sentenced Strain to five years to life in the Utah State Prison and said he would recommend to the Parole Board that Strain be given credit for time already served.
After sentencing, Fitt requested that he be dismissed as Strain's attorney. He said Strain likely will appeal the conviction and he is not in a position to follow through with an appeal. Ballif said he would consider the request but not make a decision until he had reviewed the content of Strain's appeal.
Earlier in the day, Strain took the stand and testified that Dean had made two trips with him from Texas to Idaho. But on the June 1981 trip, the one prosecutors believe ended in Dean's death, Strain said he dropped Dean off at her mother's house in Boise and drove away while she was still standing on the porch. He said he saw her again about two weeks later and that others had seen her as late as August.
Strain also testified that he purchased the alleged murder weapon one month before being arrested in 1986. He denied owning two Polaroid photographs of an area near the murder scene that were found in a filing cabinet he once owned.
In closing statements, prosecutor Craig Madsen told jurors it was a matter of whose story they believe. He said the evidence as presented contradicts Strain's story and that means "somebody is lying." He said Strain was telling a different story to jurors than he had told to others because he "now knows the evidence and has to cover for himself."
Fitt, in his closing statements, said Strain was being made a scapegoat because the state had to find someone guilty of the crime. He compared the case to "an itch you can't scratch until you find a resolution to it.
"No effort has been made whatsoever to find out if someone else is responsible for this crime," Fitt said.
Madsen and co-prosecutor John Allan credited the verdict to the evidence collected by investigators and to the testimony given by experts. Even though most of the evidence was circumstantial, they said it was convincing and was easy for jurors to piece together.
"The professionalism in the police agencies in keeping this case together for 10 years greatly affected the outcome of this trial," Madsen said.