Steven Ray Stout has never been a soldier in any war, but defense attorneys say he suffers from "shell shock."
Prosecutors - arguing that Stout has killed three people, two of them from West Valley City - have asked 3rd District Judge James Sawaya to sentence Stout to death.Stout, 33, pleaded guilty Sept. 27 to capital murder and second-degree murder in the deaths of his estranged wife's mother, Bonnie Craft, 41, and Craft's daughter, Maureen Turner, 18.
The two were brutally killed Jan. 22, 1988, in the Craft mobile home, 2801 S. 2540 West.
The penalty phase of Stout's case, which began Tuesday, is scheduled to resume Thursday.
Though the "shell shock" defense is rare but not unheard of in other states, it is new in Utah, according to Brooke Wells, one of two legal defenders assigned to Stout's case.
The other defense attorney, Elizabeth Bowman, told Sawaya Tuesday that a psychologist will testify that Stout suffers from the disorder clinically known as "post-traumatic stress syndrome."
"Steven suffered a great deal of trauma almost from his birth."
Bowman said Stout will testify how his mother and father used to fight constantly, often threatening with guns, and how his older brother used to "terrorize and torture the other children," she said.
Stout's world was falling apart in January 1988, Bowman said. "He was losing everything he'd worked for in his life - his wife, two children and his possessions . . . He goes to the Craft trailer to get a gun to commit suicide or a suicide/homicide, we don't know.
"What we do know is that the two people he killed were no one he had motive to kill."
According to autopsy testimony Tuesday, Craft was stabbed seven times in the back and beaten at least 17 times on the head with a blunt object, possibly a ball-peen hammer or a pop bottle. Turner was stabbed twice in the chest, suffered a skull fracture and was strangled with a sweatshirt sleeve.
The facts that Stout has a prior homicide conviction in 1978 and that he killed two people during one criminal episode in Utah are enough to warrant a death penalty, Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Marty Verhoef told Sawaya.
During Tuesday's hearing, Shane Turner, Craft's son, testified that he came home from work and found an Afghan blanket sticking out of a closet in Turner's bedroom, which was always immaculate.
"I opened the closet doors all the way. I looked down and saw my mother's foot. I knelt down, pulled the Afghan away and it was my mother. . . . I picked her up and held her in my arms and kissed her on the forehead."