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Utah defense attorney John Caine.

Longtime northern Utah defense attorney John Caine, who handled more than 60 murder cases in his 34-year legal career, has died. He was 59.

Mr. Caine died early Monday of myasthenia gravis, a nerve disorder.

He had strolled into courtrooms looking rumpled and often sounded like a folksy guy fresh from the sticks, but the prosecutors who faced him knew they were dealing with a powerful legal mind and a man who had a way with words.

"John was a great orator," Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said. "He was a commanding presence in the courtroom, an articulate presence, a likeable presence."

Even when representing someone who had committed appalling crimes, Mr. Caine had the ability to humanize that person, Rawlings said. He also understood the law and the criminal justice system.

"You knew when you were litigating a case against John Caine, he was going to be prepared for trial, the jury was going to love him and you were in for a major league tussle," Rawlings said.

But prosecutors also appreciated his integrity and candor, which made him a skilled negotiator when working out plea bargains.

Mr. Caine was involved in many high-profile cases, starting fresh out of law school with the Hi-Fi Shop torture-murder trial in 1974. He handled many death-row cases and got acquittals in three of them and plea bargains in many others. But he did his finest work in the courtroom.

"He was, by far, the best at giving a closing argument of anybody I've ever heard," said one of Mr. Caine's law partners, Randy Richards. "He was eloquent, but he was able to speak to a jury on their level. ... His ability to relate to a jury was just tremendous."

Sally Caine married John Caine 32 years ago, and they had five children, now ranging in age from 31 to 13.

"He was the best defense attorney in Utah and the smartest man I knew," Sally Caine said Tuesday. But she added, with affectionate laughter, that she always told people, "Never ask him to fix anything," because the one thing he lacked was any kind of mechanical ability.

As a husband, he was generous to a fault, showering her with jewelry over the years until she finally told him what she'd really like as a gift was housecleaning help — which he promptly hired.

"He also was a wonderful dad," she said. "Even with his busy lifestyle, he never missed a ball game, a concert, a band competition, a choir concert. He was always there."

Sally Caine said one of the things she admired most was the fact that he treated everyone with respect, no matter what their station in life.

"Whether he was talking to the governor of Utah or a criminal he was defending who was charged with rape and murder, the tone never changed and the treatment was never different," she said. "A lot of his clients told me recently that he never thought ill of them, and he never judged them for what they had done. I think that's a good quality in a person. That's the man I felt he was."

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com