When the verdict was read late Wednesday afternoon, defense attorneys and Charles Kenneth McCovey embraced.
The seven-woman, five-man jury, after deliberating for only four hours, found the man who killed a pregnant West Valley woman during a Kearns video store robbery guilty of a lesser charge of second-degree murder.Prosecutors had hoped for a first-degree murder verdict, which could have sent McCovey, 44, to Utah's death row. During closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor Tom Vuyk, of the Salt Lake County attorney's office, told jurors it's "clear cut" that McCovey "pulled a gun, cocked it, took hostages . . . and placed the gun 2 inches from her head."
But defense attorneys said the shooting was an accident, and the jury apparently agreed.
"This is a tremendous relief," said defense attorney Andrew Valdez after the trial. McCovey all along felt that the jury would believe his version of the incident "because it was the truth," Valdez said.
"I think he (McCovey) probably had more confidence than we did, to tell you the truth," said the defense attorney.
The jury also found McCovey guilty of aggravated robbery. He will be sentenced before 3rd District Judge Raymond Uno on March 13 for the April 22, 1988, shooting death of Anna Holmes, 31. Both crimes are first-degree felonies and carry five-year-to-life prison sentences.
Vuyk said McCovey pulled the trigger intentionally as evidenced by the statement of Brandy Holmes, the victim's 11-year-old daughter, who heard McCovey say after the shooting, "That'll take care of her."
Whether McCovey really said that, however, was called into question by defense attorney Valdez, who said Brandy was the only one of six witnesses who heard McCovey make such a statement.
"How could a little 11-year-old girl make up that statement?" asked Vuyk. "She didn't. It was true. I ask you, was that an accidental statement?"
Vuyk said McCovey's actions and deceptions after the incident do not attest to an accidental shooting.
But Valdez said the case against McCovey, also known as Charles Kenneth Hodges, is fraught with emotion and plagued with reasonable doubt.
"The state wants you to base this case on emotion because if you look at the facts, there's been reasonable doubt since day one that he intended to kill Mrs. Holmes."
Citing the testimony of the state medical examiner, Valdez said the shot was a near miss. The defense attorney also reminded the jurors of state witnesses who testified that McCovey was extremely upset after the shooting and maintained that it was an accident.
Valdez said there's evidence the shooting could have been caused by an "exaggerated startled reaction," which is characteristic of amphetamine abusers.
McCovey has testified that on the day of the shooting, he had taken about 75 methamphetamine tablets and had injected 1/4 gram of amphetamines intravenously.
"He did not intend to kill her, and I think the evidence supports that," Valdez said.
The attorney told the jury his client has feelings for what has happened.
"Believe me, Mr. McCovey has already sentenced himself to a private hell that is far worse than anything you or I or the state can visit upon him."
Attorneys were selecting the jury for the trial during the week that led up to the highly publicized execution of serial killer Ted Bundy. During that same time, the Utah Supreme Court rejected appeals from death-row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner.
Such timing concerned Valdez, who indicated that the mindset of the jury may have been more susceptible to accepting the death penalty during that time.