The Utah Court of Appeals has upheld part of a former Salt Lake County attorney investigator's conviction, in effect ruling that purported divine revelation is not an improper influence on jurors.
The ruling came Friday in the witness-tampering case of Ralph Tolman, who had argued that prayer and a juror's claim to have had a revelation of Tolman's guilt played an improper role in his conviction.Tolman also contended that the jury had insufficient evidence to convict him and that his earlier testimony before a grand jury should have been suppressed during his March 1987 3rd District Court trial.
While upholding Tolman's jury-tampering conviction, the appellate court reversed his conviction for official misconduct, ruling that there was "no evidence Tolman knowingly refrained from performing a duty imposed by law or inherent in the nature of his office."
Earlier this year, the court reversed the attempted-evidence-tampering conviction of Tolman's co-defendant, Don Harman, holding the evidence was insufficient to uphold Harman's conviction.
Harman has since been reinstated as an investigator by the Salt Lake County attorney's office, which had fired him after his conviction two years ago. He also received nearly two years of back pay.
The convictions were the result of indictments by the special county grand jury in the fall of 1986.
Harman's and Tolman's felony convictions were reduced to misdemeanors by Judge Ray Uno and they were placed on probation. But both appealed the convictions.
The indictments and convictions stemmed from an investigation of an office building fire in 1983. Tolman concluded the fire resulted from improper placement of a space heater in an office leased by a Salt Lake County agency.
Later, another investigator for the county concluded the fire began in the attic, not the leased office, and a laboratory report concluded the fire could not have originated in the space heater.
But Tolman gave a seven-page report with his original conclusions to the Murray assistant fire chief. Later, when lawsuits were filed against the county and the building owner, Tolman told the assistant fire chief to destroy his report because his bosses feared it would expose the county to liability.
Tolman argued that the court should have granted a new trial after a juror submitted an affidavit claiming one juror's claim that he was divinely inspired to convict Tolman and Harman.
Juror Karl Anderson swore in the affidavit that the jury was leaning toward acquitting both defendants until one juror, a self-professed seminary teacher for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, suggested group prayer, then indicated he received divine guidance from the prayer. The jury was 6-2 in favor of acquitting Harman, Anderson's affidavit said.