Nearly 70 people crowded a federal courtroom Thursday to listen to public defenders plead for the life of death-row inmate Mark Hopkinson.
After the three-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who stayed Hopkinson's execution last fall, said he will decide at a later date whether to overturn the Fort Bridger man's death sentence.In the meantime, the judge, who normally presides in Colorado but took over the Hopkinson case when the federal judges in Wyoming removed themselves from the case, said he must review some 15 volumes of testimony from Hopkinson's original 1979 trial.
Hopkinson was convicted of ordering the torture-slaying of Jeff Green as well as arranging the bombing deaths of an Evanston family. He was ultimately given the death sentence for the Green murder and three life sentences for the bombing deaths of Vincent Vehar, his wife and son.
Hopkinson, in the Wyoming state prison in Rawlins for the past 11 years, has evaded numerous execution dates with appeals.
At issue Thursday was whether the state withheld key evidence from the defense that might have changed the outcome of Hopkinson's trial and whether a 1983 jury was given confusing instructions when deciding whether to sentence Hopkinson to death or give him a life sentence.
While Matsch did not indicate his opinion on the jury instructions issue, saying only it is a "difficult" one, he did acknowledge that at least some of the withheld evidence seemed to be important.
In particular, Hopkinson's public defenders argued Thursday that testimony given only to prosecutors by Hopkinson's accomplice, Todd Hall, casts doubt on Hopkinson's part in the plot to kill Green.
Green's badly mutilated body was found near an I-80 rest stop in southwestern Wyoming near the Utah border two days before he was to testify to a grand jury against Hopkinson in the Vehar bombing.
In that testimony, Hall said he had destroyed a photograph of Green - and had not given it to Green's killers as prosecutors had told jurors in the 1979 trial. Special prosecutor Gerry Spence had argued that Hopkinson ordered Hall to give the killers - who have never been apprehended - the photograph as a way to identify Green.
Assistant Public Defender Barbara Lauer said if Hall destroyed the photograph, the state's case is questionable.
State Assistant Attorney General Michael Pauling said the withheld evidence is insignificant.