The Utah Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a man who stabbed his ex-fiancee to death and was convicted of second-degree murder.
In a 4-1 decision released Wednesday, Justice Richard Howe said 3rd District Judge Philip Fishler should never have allowed the jury to consider a letter John Henry Maurer wrote more than a month after killing Janet Hannan in 1985.In the letter, sent to Hannan's father, Maurer said he enjoyed watching the 29-year-old woman die and he implied the father was responsible for the death because he had "spoiled" Hannan as a child.
"She kept crying, `It hurts, it hurts,' " the letter said. "I should hope so, I mean it was a 13-inch kitchen knife."
Maurer admitted he killed Hannan, but his attorneys claimed he was acting under a mental and emotional disturbance and that Maurer should be convicted of the lesser offense of manslaughter. However, Maurer was sentenced to five years to life in the Utah State Prison.
But the Supreme Court said the letter, with the exception of a few sentences, reflects Maurer's state of mind at the time the letter was written, not at the time of the killing. Because Maurer admitted to the killing, the jury had only to decide his mental state at the time. Rather than help that decision, the letter likely inflamed the emotions of the jury.
"It would be difficult to draft a letter which would be more repulsive to the notion of the value of human life than was this letter," Howe wrote.
The decision said several witnesses testified about Maurer's condition on the day of the killing, saying he had a strange smile and appeared to be pleased and at times laughing.
But in a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Gordon Hall said the letter's entire context was important in determining Maurer's state of mind. In any event, the state presented enough evidence against Maurer to make the letter of little consequence, Hall wrote, concluding the sentence should be upheld.
According to court testimony, Maurer became angry with Hannan after she broke off their engagement in January 1985 and developed an affection for his close friend. Maurer was so distraught he called a suicide hotline and received a sedative. He later went to the condominium he had shared with Hannan, arriving just ahead of Hannan and his friend.
Maurer paced from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom, alternating between crying and being calm, according to testimony. He asked his friend if he felt guilty about seeing Hannan, to which his friend said he was so disturbed it was difficult to have sexual relations with Hannan.
Maurer became enraged, rushed to the kitchen to get a knife and stabbed Hannan in the back.