Mannequins represented the murder victims in the court-room.
Inanimate objects - plastic people with faces incapable of showing pain as attorneys, using long spikes, marked spots where bullets had torn real flesh, stopped two real hearts.The defendant, Edward Deli, very much alive and looking dapper in a navy blue business suit, sat in front of the judge watching the jury, listening to the testimony against him.
The real family of the people represented by those mannequins was quiet, restrained as prosecutors proffered matter-of-fact autopsy reports and photos depicting the still bodies of their loved ones. Photographs showing life and joy in the faces of Beth Potts, 76, and Kaye Tiede, 49, before their bodies became evidence in the state's case against Deli were not allowed into the trial. The living photos were not relevant, the judge ruled.
But their relevance seemed obvious to Barbara Noriega, who struggles to remember her mother and sister sitting and watching the hummingbirds on the porch of their cabin called "Tranquility" - not as they appeared Dec. 22 on that same porch, victims of a murderer's gun.
Nonetheless, she - and other family members - felt compelled to confront the terror because they wanted their courtroom presence to remind the judge that the dead have living rights to be guarded.
"The justice system focuses on the rights of the defendant," said Noriega. "Unless victims' families are willing to risk discomfort and public exposure by attending the trial and being seen by the judge, it's convenient for the judge, the prosecutor and the media to forget the reason behind the justice system - the victims."
As Americans complain loudly about an imbalanced justice system, victims and their families are beginning to assume more responsibility in tilting the scales a bit more in their direction. The evolution toward victims' rights, which in Utah began just a few years ago, is subtle but steady. Recent recommendations by the Utah Commission of Justice in the 21st Century to increase the role of victims in the prosecution and sentencing decisions reinforces an emerging philosophy of the courts: Victims are our customers. They are the reason the system exists.
During the trial, witnesses testified that Deli and co-defendant Von L. Taylor burglarized the Tiede cabin Dec. 21. The next afternoon when Linae and her mother and grandmother arrived, the two older women were shot. Linae testified she saw Taylor shoot her mother but that she turned around and did not see who fired the other shots. Each woman was shot three times with two different weapons.
When Rolf Tiede and daughter Tricia arrived, Deli and Taylor shot him twice in the head, witnesses said, but he survived. The two men then kidnapped Linae and Tricia but were arrested after a chase with police officers.
Taylor has pleaded guilty to two counts of capital homicide.
Noriega believes the prosecutors did an exceptional job of involving the family in the case as it progressed. Linae Tiede, who was standing next to her mother and grandmother as they were murdered, was worried that the success of the trial depended on how well she could remember details - details that she would prefer to forget. During the weeks before the trial, she lost weight and couldn't sleep.
Linae's sister, Tricia, who witnessed her father getting shot in the face and was kidnapped with Linae, also felt the burden of testifying. Prosecutors lessened the young women's anxieties by explaining what to expect on the witness stand.
"We all had a million questions. They answered our questions patiently and with compassion," said Noriega.
To pull together shattered lives, many family members continue to receive counseling through victim reparation programs.
But Noreiga feels "bitter, angry and betrayed" by last Tuesday's verdict sparing Deli's life with two second-degree murder convictions instead of first-degree. As they left the Coalville courthouse, jurors also expressed their frustration at what they saw as stubbornness of a single juror who refused to return a capital murder verdict.
The victims' family believes the jury agreed to the second-degree sentence instead of returning as a hung jury to spare the family the anguish of another trial. But they wish they could have somehow communicated with the jury. They would have told jurors to refuse the lesser conviction. They felt sure if the same evidence could be presented during a second trial, the case was so "airtight" it would surely result in a death penalty conviction. And only the death penalty would satisfy a sense of justice for "all that has been suffered," Noreiga said.
But unlike defendants, victims can't appeal a verdict.
"We have suffered such a loss, we have wounds we're trying to heal. But some of our wounds can't be patched - even with time," said Noriega.
She had hoped that the trial would numb a portion of the pain. Though she will always miss talking on the phone with her sister, Kaye, and laughing with her mother - "there are some things the justice system can't fix" - at least some kind of "justice" should have been felt.
But now, family members feel the progress they have made in rebuilding trust in society "has been leveled by the unfair verdict."
Feeling defeated, it would be easy to throw their hands up in despair and walk away from any further involvement in Utah's legal system. But Noriega and her family want to influence the severity of the sentence Deli receives on June 3. Using a new tool for victims - the victim impact statement - they will express their feelings about the crime and its never-ending aftermath and plead for the maximum sentences allowed. The judge receives the impact statement weeks prior to the sentencing. Additionally, most Utah judges will allow victims to testify in open court at sentencing, if they want to.
"I want to look the judge in the eyes to let him know that what he decides at sentencing will impact our family in an unbelievable way. I would hate to see Deli receive a few years in prison and then get out to butcher another family like he did ours," said Noriega.
As a tribute to her mother and sister, Noriega and her family have vowed to become activists with victim rights groups.
"I believe the justice system would be more balanced if victims and their families would become more actively involved. They shouldn't be intimidated by judges. If the only image a judge has of a victim is a lifeless mannequin, then victims and the horror they suffer can be tragically forgotten," she said.
The human face
The role of victims should be increased in prosecution and sentencing decisions. Continued efforts should be made to provide secure waiting areas in the courthouse, separating victims, defendants and their respective families.
- proposed by the Justice
Commission in the 21st
A public hearing on all justice commission recommendations will be Thursday, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Law and Justice Center, 645 South 200 East.