George Wesley Hamilton believes a reasonable jury did not have enough evidence to convict him for the 1985 murder and mutilation of Southern Utah State College coed Sharon Sant and appealed that conviction to the Utah Supreme Court Monday.
Hamilton's attorney, Fred Metos, told the court that Hamilton's fingerprints on beer cans and a bottle of blood at the scene were the strongest pieces of evidence connecting him to the crime - but not strong enough for a jury to convict him of second-degree murder.But some of the justices disagreed. Justice Michael D. Zimmerman pointed out that Hamilton and accomplice Robert Bott were seen with Sant the day she disappeared. The wood-splitting maul used to kill Sant was identified by friends as Hamilton's or almost identical to Hamilton's.
Several justices reminded Metos that the court had just affirmed a murder conviction on the strength of blood on a cigarette butt. The Hamilton case offered much more compelling evidence tying him to the murder, they said.
Assistant Attorney General Charlene Barlow argued that more than just the fingerprints tied Hamilton to the crime, including a strand of hair similar to Sant's found in his truck several months after the murder.
In his written appeal, Hamilton blamed the murder on Bott. Bott confessed to his involvement in the murder in exchange for immunity from prosecution. However, Bott's story had so many inconsistencies the state did not use his testimony at Hamilton's trial.
Barlow pointed out that drag marks at the scene of the murder indicate two people dragged Sant's body from the spot where it was mutilated to the place where it was buried.
"This may be the most compelling evidence that there were two people involved in the crime."
Zimmerman also noted that Hamilton's bloody fingerprint on a bottle of what appeared to be Sant's blood suggested he was assisting in the murder and mutilation.
"If he was not the one cutting the body open, he was at least the one grabbing hold of the body with his bloody hands," Barlow said.
Metos argued that Hamilton could have left his bloody fingerprint on a bottle of blood at the crime scene in other ways. Metos noted that Hamilton had a scar on the same finger that made the print, suggesting the finger had been cut. The bottle of blood could be Hamilton's blood, not Sant's, he argued. And it could have been left there on a day other than the date of the murder.
Metos said even if Hamilton did help mutilate Sant, there is no evidence that he delivered the blow to the head that probably killed her. The state medical examiner believes Sant was killed before she was mutilated, Metos told the court.
"Even if the court decides it was Sharon Sant's blood from the mutilation on the bottle, she may have already been dead by then. (Mutilating her) may have been another crime, but it doesn't indicate that Hamilton participated in the homicide."
Metos also based his appeal on the claim that the judge should have instructed the jury that Hamilton's fingerprints on the bottle of blood and several beer cans at the scene could have been left at a date before or after the murder and did not necessarily tie Hamilton to the murder.
Barlow argued that the judge told the jury if it could find a reasonable alternative explanation for the evidence against Hamilton, it must acquit him. That was sufficient instruction, she said.
If Hamilton wins a new trial, it would be his third. The Utah Supreme Court granted Hamilton a new trial in 1988 because it found the jury had been contaminated with information not presented in court. A second trial in 1989 resulted in the same conviction for Hamilton.