The Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday that a convicted killer will serve one life sentence instead of two for murdering his ex-girlfriend and trying to kill her current boyfriend in June 2003.
In a ruling issued Friday, the state's high court said that Trovon Donta Ross never should have been charged with a second count of attempted aggravated murder because the evidence in that count was an aggravating predicate to the first count of aggravated murder.
"The practical effect of this decision is that Mr. Ross will serve one life sentence without the possibility of parole instead of two," wrote Justice Ronald Nehring.
The Supreme Court also took the opportunity to clarify when a district judge is justified in empaneling an anonymous jury, where jurors are referred to by number rather than by name.
In his appeal, Ross had argued that the judge's decision to empanel an anonymous jury prejudiced jurors into thinking their lives were somehow in danger. The 2nd District Court judge had explained that his decision was to avoid media intrusion.
In Friday's opinion, which was unanimous, Nehring said judges must weigh the facts of the case to determine if jurors' names should be kept secret. Circumstances include if the defendant is involved in organized crime or belongs to a group that could harm jurors. It is also justified if the defendant has a past in "trying to interfere with the judicial process" or "extensive publicity that could enhance the possibility that the jurors' names become public and expose them to intimidation or harassment."
In addition, Nehring indicated that judges could use the media as a reason to avoid having jurors feel they're in danger.
"A court might instruct anonymous jurors that 'the purpose for juror anonymity is to protect the jurors from contacts by the news media, thereby implying that juror anonymity is not the result of threats from the criminal defendant,"' Nehring wrote.
Prosecutors alleged that on June 30, 2003, Ross went to the Clinton-area home of his ex-girlfriend, Annie Christensen, armed with a loaded gun. While inside, Ross confronted Christensen and her boyfriend, James May. Pulling his gun, Ross took Christensen by the arm into a bedroom while May ran to his car to get help. May reported hearing several gunshots. Christensen was later found dead with multiple gunshot wounds.
May tried to escape in his car but couldn't start it because he was so panicked he couldn't blow into a Breathalyzer interlock device placed on the car due to a prior DUI. May ran as Ross fired six shots at him, striking him in the arm.
A jury convicted Ross of aggravated murder, a capital offense, and attempted aggravated murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.Assistant Utah Attorney General Matthew Bates said Ross will remain behind bars. "It's not going to have any effect on his sentence. He's going to spend the rest of his life in prison," Bates said.