The Utah attorney general's office is reviewing a district judge's dismissal of a capital homicide charge against a prison inmate and may appeal the ruling to the Utah Supreme Court.
The office was approached about the case this week after 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels dismissed the first-degree murder charge and two related felony counts against Daniel R. Troyer.Daniels granted a defense motion to dismiss when Salt Lake County prosecutors said they could not move forward with the case because the judge had previously suppressed key witnesses and evidence.
The state has 30 days from Daniels' Tuesday decision to file an appeal.
"He makes them; we live with them," Bud Ellett, chief of the county attorney's justice division, said of the judge's decision. "But it doesn't mean we can't ask for it to be reviewed."
Ellett said the outright dismissal of capital homicide charges is a rare occurrence.
Defense attorneys James Valdez and Mark Moffat did not return telephone calls Friday, but they have maintained their client's innocence and said all of the judge's rulings were justified.
Troyer, 31, had been charged in the slaying of 88-year-old Ethel Luckau, who was found suffocated in her bed on Aug. 17, 1988, a day Troyer had allegedly walked away from a halfway house in Salt Lake City.
He remains incarcerated on convictions for escape and burglary but could be paroled within two years, prosecutors have said.
The county attorney's office hopes to have four elements of its case restored on appeal and refile the murder charge.
The disputed issues include allegedly incriminating statements made by Troyer to Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Don Bell; statements Troyer reportedly made to his sister, Bonnie, and to police who arrested him in Seattle several weeks after the slaying.
Prosecutors also want reversals of the judge's suppression of DNA analysis of hairs found at the crime scene and the testimony of another inmate, David Coon, who claims Troyer admitted sexually assaulting and killing Luckau.
"We are reviewing this but no decision has been made about whether there is sufficient basis for appeal," Chief Deputy Attorney General Joe Tesch said through a spokeswoman. "There are difficult issues involved and one of those is the estoppel issue" involving Coon's testimony.
Daniels disallowed that testimony under a burden-of-proof standard commonly used in civil cases but rarely seen in criminal trials.
The judge ruled that before Coon came forward prosecutors had said they had no prison informants, so they were barred from using "snitches" from that point on.
DNA evidence was suppressed for similar reasons.
"The DNA was more conclusive than any other single piece of forensic evidence," said Deputy County Attorney Greg Skordas.
Dave Thompson, chief of the attorney general's appellate division, said the case has not formally been turned over to his office yet, but that he expected to go over Daniels' rulings over the next couple of weeks.
Because the case is a capital homicide, the Supreme Court must hear any direct appeal from the state, he said.