Wesley Allen Tuttle, convicted of brutally stabbing a woman to death in 1983, may be up for parole as early as this year because of a Utah Supreme Court decision released Wednesday.
In the decision, the court ruled Tuttle was guilty of second-degree murder - not first-degree murder - as a jury had originally ruled. The court ordered the Third District Court to change Tuttle's sentence.For second-degree murder, Tuttle will be sentenced to five years to life. He was originally sentenced on May 21, 1984, to life in prison but now may receive a parole hearing this year. Generally, however, parole isn't granted on a first hearing.
Tuttle was given a first-degree sentence because of a state law requiring such a sentence for killing done in an "especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or exceptionally depraved manner."
But the court ruled that law was too vague to be applied in Tuttle's case. If the law is interpreted literally, it would include all murders in which death was not instantaneous, said the opinion written by Associate Justice Michael Zimmerman.
In order to qualify under the law, Tuttle would have to have attacked his victim much more than was necessary to kill her, Zimmerman wrote.
Tuttle's attorney, Kenneth Brown, had little comment Wednesday, saying he had not yet seen the decision.
Tuttle, a truck driver, was sentenced to life in prison on May 21, 1984 for stabbing Sydney Ann Merrick seven times and leaving her in her car parked along the off-ramp of the Summit Park exit. Merrick had apparently had car trouble and Tuttle stopped to help.
According to the court decision, Tuttle was not exceptionally cruel.
"The only evidence of heinousness presented at trial was the following: the victim received four deep stab wounds, three of which were potentially fatal in and of themselves," Zimmerman wrote.
"The record contains no evidence that Tuttle intended to do, or in fact did anything but kill his victim by stabbing her. Even though this method is gorey and distasteful, there is absolutely no evidence that Tuttle had a quicker or less painful method available to him, or that he was expert at such matters and intentionally refrained from administering one wound that would have caused instantaneous death in favor of a number of wounds that would prolong the victim's life and suffering."
The court also ruled it was improper for the court to allow a witness to testify under hypnosis during Tuttle's trial, but it said the error had no effect on the trial's outcome.