Third District Judge Paul Maughan will issue a ruling Monday on whether a man charged with capital murder meets the state standard for mental retardation, which will affect whether prosecutors can seek his execution.
Floyd Eugene Maestas, 52, is charged with capital murder stemming from the Sept. 28, 2004 beating, strangulation and stabbing death of Donna Lou Bott, 75, who was killed in her Salt Lake home.
Maestas' defense team during a three-day hearing maintained their client is retarded and therefore exempt from the death penalty if a jury convicts him. Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued that Maestas may not be particularly bright, but does not meet the legal standard for retardation that would spare him death if convicted.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 issued a historic ruling that outlaws executing mentally-retarded criminals. The ruling emerged from a Virginia death penalty case involving Daryl Renard Atkins who was convicted in 1996 of fatally shooting a man for beer money. Atkins' IQ is below 65. Generally, people with IQs of 70 or below are considered mentally retarded.
This week's lengthy proceedings in Maestas' case were referred to by the judge and attorneys as the first "Atkins hearing" held in Utah.
Defense attorney David Mack argued that the judge needs to look beyond mere IQ scores and take into account Maestas' entire history, which includes such things as failing first grade, placement in special education classes, school reports classifying Maestas as "educable/mentally retarded," and a family history of retardation.
Utah's law, unlike some other states, does not specify an IQ number as a cut-off point to determine mental retardation. Instead, it refers to someone who is "substantially sub-average in intellectual functioning," particularly regarding reasoning and/or impulse control, with these qualities showing up before age 22.
Prosecutor Kent Morgan, meanwhile, said that Maestas does not meet the legal definition, and the law does not exempt everyone who functions at "dull-normal, borderline mentally retarded or sub-average" levels from culpability for committing murder.
During the final portion of the hearing Thursday, Kristina Swickard, supervisor of social services for the Legal Defenders Association, described her observations of Maestas after interviewing him for 400-600 hours. She found he had difficulty thinking abstractly and communicating.
Swickard also said Maestas does not want to be characterized as retarded and, although he doesn't believe he should have been charged with capital murder, wants to face the death penalty at trial because he thinks people will pay better attention to such a case and he would get a smarter jury.
She also reviewed as many records from Maestas' life as she could get and interviewed relatives, which showed a history of family members who are either diagnosed as retarded or who are low-functioning.
Sonia Couillard, a certified Spanish-speaking court interpreter, said a written transcript of a recorded telephone call involving Maestas and another person was translated incorrectly. There was earlier testimony about Maestas possibly choosing wrong answers on IQ tests so he could score lower.
Couillard said one phrase in the phone call "so it could look good in court and throw all this out" should be translated as "so it can end up in court and throw this all out."
Meanwhile, prosecution witness Chad Jacobson, a correctional officer who works at the Salt Lake County Jail, testified that he and Maestas communicate easily and Maestas reads and discusses newspaper articles and legal items in his court documents.Jury selection and the portion of the trial that decides if he is guilty will begin in January.
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