Capital murder charges against a Utah State Prison inmate accused of killing an 88-year-old woman were thrown out Tuesday.
The case against Daniel R. Troyer, 31, was dismissed.Salt Lake County Deputy Attorney Greg Skordas said he felt there was no longer enough evidence to prosecute Troyer for the murder of Ethel Luckau, who was asphyxiated in her home, 357 E. 1700 South, on Aug. 17, 1988.
Skordas cited three pieces of evidence against Troyer that 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels had suppressed. "I don't feel that I could get a conviction in this case based on the evidence that is left," he said.
"We filed the case based on evidence at the time that wasn't suppressed."
Daniels said he was offended by the im
plication that his decisions to suppress certain evidence were inappropriate. He said in making the rulings, his only concern was that Troyer receive a fair trial.
"I don't enjoy being made a scapegoat," he told the prosecutor.
Skordas replied, "Your honor, I'm the scapegoat here."
The judge said, "I understand, and I see you are very reluctant to dismiss this case because I perceive that you think this man is a murderer - and maybe he is."
"I'm certain he is, your honor," said Skordas.
Troyer served time in prison in the early 1980s for the attempted rape of an elderly woman. He has been named as a suspect in the 1985 death of a 69-year-old South Salt Lake woman whose body was exhumed last year to be examined for new clues. Troyer has also been questioned in connection with the strangulation deaths of other elderly women.
He is currently serving a 1-to-15-year sentence and a zero-to-5-year sentence at the Utah State Prison for attempting to burglarize an elderly woman's home and for an escape conviction. But Skordas said Troyer could now be eligible for parole "almost any day."
"I'm just worried for my mom and my grandma," the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney James Valdez said Troyer unfairly becomes a suspect whenever an elderly woman dies of suspicious circumstances. "We always felt this was not a good case. We always felt Mr. Troyer was innocent," he said.
Troyer was charged with first-degree murder more than two years ago. DNA tests showed that blood found on Luckau's pillow and hairs found on her body matched samples taken from Troyer, according to court documents.
Troyer had been released from a halfway house from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the day of the murder. Witnesses saw Luckau alive at 9 a.m. that day, but the woman did not answer her door when a furnace repairman knocked on her door for a scheduled appointment at 1:30 p.m.
The defendant told detectives different stories about his whereabouts on that day. One of his stories, however, put him within a block of the homicide. Troyer's sister testified that her brother called her and asked her to give him an alibi that she was with him on the morning of Aug. 17, according to court documents. She said, however, that they were never together.
Daniels suppressed Troyer's statement about his whereabouts that day, saying it was a confession that had been taken illegally. He also threw out the sister's statement, indicating that investigators wouldn't have known about the confession if not for her statement.
The judge also prohibited prosecutors from allowing a former cellmate to testify. The cellmate said Troyer admitted to him that he had killed Luckau. Daniels said his prohibition was the result of Skordas having earlier made a commitment not to use testimony from an inmate.
"We didn't know that those statements existed at the time," said Skordas.
Daniels also reminded Skordas that he would not allow him to present the testimony about the DNA testing because Skordas announced the prosecution had declined to use it.
But Skordas said he offered to withdraw the DNA evidence in order to "get on with the trial." Defense attorneys had asked for six months time to have their own DNA tests performed. Skordas said he would rather have held the trial without that evidence than to wait so long.
As it was, the trial was delayed for more than a year because of a series of motions.
Although prosecutors could at this point still present the testimony of a confidential informant who claims Troyer confessed to him, Skordas said many of the other witnesses in the 3-year-old case are now unavailable. Prosecutors may attempt to appeal the DNA suppression to the Court of Appeals and then refile the case.