Utah's Supreme Court has decided a man who murdered the aunt of Provo's police chief should at least temporarily be taken off death row until a jury re-examines the brutality of his crime.
In a unanimous decision released Monday, justices said the jury that convicted Douglas Carter in 1985 was not properly instructed as to how Utah law defines a homicide performed in a "heinous, atrocious, cruel or exceptionally depraved manner."The jury sentenced Carter to death because it had earlier found him guilty of committing such a crime.
Carter, 33, was convicted of killing 57-year-old Eva Oleson, whose husband found her shot and stabbed in her southeast Provo residence Feb. 27, 1985. She had been shot once in the back of the head with a .38-caliber pistol and stabbed 10 times with a kitchen knife. Oleson was an aunt to Provo Police Chief Swen Nielsen.
Police in Nashville, Tenn., arrested Carter several months later after receiving a tip from someone who overheard him talking about a Utah murder.
In the decision, written by Chief Justice Gordon Hall, the Supreme Court said the jury had enough evidence and instruction from the judge to convict Carter of first-degree murder, considering it also found him guilty of aggravated burglary in connection with the crime.
But justices said a new jury should be impaneled to decide again whether to give Carter the death sentence.
Hall said the judge should have told the jury that a heinous or unusually cruel murder "must be demonstrated by physical torture, serious physical abuse or serious bodily injury of the victim before death," according to Utah law.
Carter's attorneys claim the jury would not have imposed the death sentence had it been properly instructed.
"The defense contends that this uncertainty must invalidate defendant's death sentence," Hall wrote. "We agree under the circumstances of this case."
Chief Deputy Attorney General Dave Thomas said a new jury doesn't necessarily have to be impaneled. State prosecutors and attorneys representing Carter may meet soon and decide if the death penalty should remain.
However, if no such decision is reached a new jury will have to review transcripts of Carter's trial, be given the proper instruction and decide whether Carter should remain on death row.
Gary Weight, Carter's attorney, could not be reached for comment Monday.