A 12-member jury is being asked over the course of the next two weeks to decide if convicted killer Floyd Eugene Maestas will spend the rest of his life in prison or face execution for the beating and stomping death of an elderly woman.
The penalty phase for Maestas' sentencing began Tuesday before 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan and is scheduled to run through Feb. 15.
Prosecutors detailed a long and extensive criminal history for Maestas, 52, that began as a juvenile and includes several acts of violence targeting older women.
Blake Hills, with the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office, said the murder of Donna Lou Bott, 72, in 2004 happened only three weeks after Maestas' release from prison.
In the Bott case, Maestas was convicted last week of aggravated murder, which can carry the death penalty.
But defense attorney David Mack argued for the jury to show mercy, urging them to understand the emotional and mental makeup of Maestas, as well as his personal history.
He said Maestas grew up in severe poverty, was physically and sexually abused, engaged in substance abuse and suffers from extremely low intellectual functioning. Mack said one expert witness will testify that a person with a "moral disability" like that of Maestas has a hard time with reasoning and behavior.
Mack stressed that the crime against Bott should not be minimized and said Maestas should be punished, but urged the jury to choose life, not death. "His fate rests in your hearts and your hands."
The prosecutor instead urged the jury to unanimously agree that the verdict be death and showed members a chart detailing crimes that stretch to 1969. Some involved violent assaults on people in the homes, but were pleaded down to burglary or theft charges.
One elderly woman walked gingerly with help to the witness box Tuesday and testified that she and her two sisters, who lived together in a Salt Lake home, had come back from a church function in 1989 and saw something was wrong inside their house. Among other things, underwear drawers were in disarray, pictures on the mantle had been moved and there was a beer next to a chair facing the TV that had been turned on.
In a rare moment of humor in an otherwise gravely serious proceeding, the woman testified that one sister cried out in anger when she discovered Maestas in her bedroom.
"She yelled, 'That SOB! Stop!,'" the woman testified.
"(She) gave chase after him. I went out the back door. The boys at the video rental next door chased him. (A man), who was president of the Beehive Credit Union, asked what was going on and he chased him.
"It was like the Keystone Cops," the woman said, to general laughter in the courtroom.
She said Maestas stole a gold cross that the sisters eventually recovered.
Testimony turned grim, however, when retired Salt Lake Police Det. Pat Smith took the stand and described her investigation into the 1976 assault on Alinda McLean, then 79, whose home was broken into and who was badly beaten. McLean died about 10 years later.
Smith testified that McLean's face was severely swollen, she had a bite mark on her breast and "bruising everywhere."
Another Salt Lake woman tearfully testified that Maestas broke into her house in 1989, beat her with his fists, ripped all of her clothing off and forced her to the floor where he "started stomping on me with his shoes." She said he kept saying he would not hurt her, but even after she told him where her purse was, he kept on beating her. "Finally, I pretended I was passed out I thought maybe he would stop."
Maestas pleaded guilty to a theft charge in that case and was sent to prison, but the woman recounted how horrified she felt when she heard of Bott's murder and suspected Maestas might have been paroled from prison without her knowing about it."I was told he would be put away forever," she said. "The fact that I wasn't able to keep him in prison it really bothered me."