On Feb. 8, a jury found Charles Kenneth McCovey guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder in the shooting death last April of a pregnant West Valley woman.
The verdict apparently doesn't sit well with the community:"The jury cheapened the value of my life."
"What a pitiful society we live in."
"How much longer will decent, law-abiding citizens tolerate this insanity?"
"The verdict in this case is a travesty of justice."
Those statements are taken from four letters to the editor that have appeared this past week in the two Salt Lake daily newspapers. (Both papers received other similar letters that haven't been published.)
McCovey, 44, also known as Charles Kenneth Hodges, admitted killing Anna Holmes, eight months pregnant, who had taken her three daughters and their friends to a Kearns video store the night of April 22.
McCovey held a gun to Holmes' head and demanded money from the cashier. The gun discharged and Holmes, 31, died at a hospital a few hours later, shortly after doctors delivered a baby girl, who suffered brain damage as a result of the trauma.
It was one of most sensational crimes of 1988.
But McCovey, who was charged with first-degree murder - which carries a possible death sentence - told the seven-woman, five-man jury that the shooting was an accident. The jury agreed, finding him guilty of second-degree murder.
The Deseret News spoke with three of the jurors - a man and two women - to learn what led them to their decision and to get a feel for what went on during the deliberations.
One thing was obvious: It was not an easy or pleasant experience.
"I didn't enjoy it," said one of the jurors. "I felt bad that first day of testimony when the (victim's) husband and the little girls testified. I went home and cried that night for a long time."
Despite the emotionalism surrounding the crime and trial, the juror said she followed the law in rendering her verdict.
"I didn't make my decision about the way I felt about (McCovey) but based it on the instructions I was given before and after the case by the judge."
The three jurors agreed that Ernie Jones and Tom Vuyk, Salt Lake County deputy attorneys, simply failed to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the murder was intentional, which is an essential element of first-degree murder.
"Frankly, it was the lack of evidence," said another juror. "In my mind, there was a reasonable doubt that he was there to do anything but rob the store."
"It was up to the prosecution to prove that he intentionally and knowingly killed her," said the third juror interviewed, "and I don't think they did it. If there's a reasonable doubt, you can't go with first-degree murder. A lot of the time I wished I could. It would have been easier for me to give him murder one, but I couldn't see it."
The jurors also agreed that the audio tape of McCovey's statement to police following his arrest was significant in their decision.
"It was quite compelling and it kept coming back up in our conversation, about 10 times," said one of the jurors. In that tape, a Salt Lake County sheriff's sergeant at one point says to McCovey: "It's apparent to me that there's a possibility that you didn't intend to shoot her . . . . "
Said the juror, "I don't think (the sergeant) would have said that if he didn't feel it."
One of the state's witnesses, Brandy Holmes, the victim's 12-year-old daughter, testified she saw the killing and heard McCovey say something like, "That'll take care of her," or "That's the end of her." Wasn't that evidence of McCovey's intent on murder?
"Brandy's statement was troubling," said one of the jurors. "We would have felt better if someone else had heard it but witnesses who were closer didn't hear it. It came down to her testimony against the others. So there was reasonable doubt that he said it."
The jury deliberated about four hours, with only one juror really having doubts about giving McCovey a lesser charge. That juror was quickly persuaded, however, after further discussion of the evidence, said one of the jurors.
Though aware of the criticism of their verdict, the jurors interviewed said they are not unsettled by it.
"A lot of people disagree with me. I can understand the emotion and can't blame them for their resentment. But they didn't sit on the jury and hear all the evidence. I did."
McCovey, who was also found guilty of aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, will be sentenced March 13 before 3rd District Judge Raymond Uno, who will decide whether the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively.
Additionally, McCovey faces two unrelated robbery charges, both of which carry indeterminate prison terms of five years to life.