A stone-faced Floyd Eugene Maestas, hands in his pants pockets, stood Friday and listened without visible emotion to a soft-voiced court clerk read aloud the fate a jury handed out for the brutal murder of a 72-year-old woman:
"We ... render a verdict of death."
The nine-woman, three-man jury came to a unanimous agreement after 3 1/2 hours of deliberation.
After his formal sentencing on Feb. 6, Maestas will join nine other men already on death row in the Utah State Prison.
This is the first time a jury has handed out a death sentence in Utah since 1996, when jurors condemned to death Troy Michael
Kell, a white supremacist who killed a black inmate while already in prison.
Taberon Dave Honie, who killed his ex-girlfriend's mother, was the most recent person sentenced to die, in 1999, but his penalty was decided by a Utah judge.
"I think justice was done in this case," prosecutor Kent Morgan said later. "Nobody's happy about a death sentence, but it is justice."
Morgan said the victim, Donna Lou Bott, gave her life in this case and Maestas, who has a 30-year criminal history, has made a practice of brutalizing elderly women.
"What do we do with someone who will not reform?" Morgan asked, adding that when it gets to this point the only reasonable thing to do is "end this criminal career."
In court, Morgan had emphasized how helpless and innocent Donna Bott was at age 72, sleeping alone in her own darkened house, when Maestas burst in, began beating her, stabbed her in the face, ripped her underpants off, strangled her and then, when she was on the floor, stomped on her chest with his boots, rupturing her aorta.
Meanwhile, the defeated prosecution team left the courtroom without comment, except for a brief remark by one lawyer.
They had put up spirited arguments in court and talked at length behind closed doors to try to introduce mitigating evidence that would show how Maestas' chaotic family life, childhood sexual and physical abuse and low IQ made him less culpable for his crimes than a person who functions normally.
But Maestas did not want any unflattering history of his family aired in court and blocked the evidence.
Maestas repeatedly said he would risk death rather than drag his family into the case. In the end, 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan ruled that Maestas had the legal right to reject the use of such testimony even though doing this might be to Maestas' disadvantage.
Defense attorney David Mack said as he left the courthouse that it was difficult to put on such evidence when the defendant doesn't want it introduced, and Mack suggested the verdict might have been different had the jury learned how impoverished and troubled Maestas' childhood and youth had been.
"They only heard half the case," Mack said.
Maestas expressed a desire Friday to go to prison as soon as possible, but the judge said a case such as this has considerable paperwork that must be handled properly before the official sentencing.
Capital murder trials in Utah have two stages: the first is one where a jury decides whether someone is guilty or not guilty; the second phase is the one where the jury decides the penalty, which in this case was either life in prison without parole or death.
This jury not only convicted Maestas of aggravated murder for Bott's Sept. 28, 2004, slaying, but also convicted him of first-degree felony aggravated burglary in a home invasion crime where Maestas roughed up a now-89-year-old woman the same night.
Although Bott's case takes precedence, the prosecutor asked the judge to "reserve jurisdiction" in the burglary case so a sentence for that crime could be imposed in the future if anything changes during future appeals of the death penalty case.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Denise Porter implored the jury to opt for life in prison without parole for Maestas and told them that in order to judge an individual, one must attempt to see the humanity within him and look at the whole person, not simply the crime.
"What Mr. Morgan has asked you to do is kill another human being," Porter said. "No one ever deserves mercy. It is something we give freely from our hearts."
She said there is a time to stop violence and stop suffering, and she said she was begging them to be the person who says, "I refuse" to perpetuate any more violence by ordering Maestas' execution.
"Be the person who chooses life," Porter said.
Morgan, on the other hand, underscored the violence of Maestas' criminal history and pointed to his many parole violations that were often associated with crimes against people in which he entered into plea bargains that made them appear less malicious, at least on paper.
"He's the one who made the choices. He's the one who committed the crimes. If he just wanted to go back to prison and live, have a drink."
The prosecutor recalled testimony from relatives of the murder victim Bott's granddaughter and niece who had to clean the blood from Bott's home.
"I think it is clear that Donna Bott's life counts for something," Morgan told the jury. "It's up to you to decide whether her death counts for something."
Morgan said both Maestas and his ex-wife have stated in court that Maestas never admitted responsibility for anything."Mercy is not appropriate for someone who has made a career out of victimizing the most vulnerable elderly women."
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