By a 4-1 vote, Utah's Supreme Court justices have decided to reject what may be one of the final appeals of convicted killer William Andrews.
But many legal hurdles remain before state officials can execute Andrews, who was convicted and sentenced to die more than 14 years ago.The decision, handed down Thursday, denied Andrews' claims he was represented by an incompetent attorney and that the trial court should have told the jury it could convict him of second-degree murder, under which he could not have been sentenced to death.
Andrews was convicted along with Pierre Dale Selby in one of Utah's grisliest murders. While robbing the Hi Fi Shop on April 22, 1974, Andrews and Selby herded five people into the shop's basement, bound them and forced them to drink liquid drain cleaner. Each then was shot in the head. An 18-year-old girl also was raped and a ball point pen was kicked into the ear of another victim.
Three of the victims died. Selby was executed last year for his part in the crimes.
Four state Supreme Court justices said Thursday that Andrews' attorneys did not provide a good reason why they didn't raise the issues in an earlier appeal. The latest appeal was an abuse of the system, they said.
Justice Christine M. Durham was the lone dissenter, saying the state should carefully consider all death-penalty cases and should review the Andrews' trial in detail.
"I acknowledge the devastating impact on all concerned of delays required for meticulous and time-consuming review of the fairness with which the state imposes the death penalty," she said. "Balanced against that terrible cost, however, must be the even more terrible possibility that a defendant's life may be taken without fundamental fairness and due process."
State prosecutors, while happy with the decision, were reluctant to speculate on when Andrews could be executed.
Andrews has 14 days to ask the court to rehear his appeal. After that, he has 90 days in which to appeal to federal courts. If he fails in those appeals, state prosecutors must ask the state Supreme Court to lift a stay of execution handed down in August. Once the stay is lifted, state officials must ask 2nd District Court for a new death warrant and execution date. Andrews then would be entitled to a hearing before the state Board of Pardons.
"I don't speculate anymore," said Assistant Attorney General Earl Dorius, when asked how soon Andrews may die. "I just let the process run its course."
Dorius was one of the original prosecutors assigned to the case after Andrews was sentenced to die. He said courts are more likely to rule quickly on Andrews' petitions now that he has entered what likely is the final round of appeals. "The courts will respond in a matter of hours rather than years," he said.
The decision Thursday came one month after justices heard arguments in the case.
Had the Utah Supreme Court granted Andrews' appeal, the entire case may have been heard again before a jury in a state court.
While arguing before justices last month, Andrews' attorneys said their client left the stereo shop before anyone was raped or killed.
"We represent a 19-year-old who got caught up in a robbery that went too far," said attorney Joe Tesch.
Andrews is originally from Jonesboro, La.