SALT LAKE CITY -- The family of Raechale Elton has waited a year for the Utah Supreme Court to issue a ruling concerning the life without parole sentence issued to Robert Cameron Houston, who admitted to raping and killing the woman when he was 17.
Now, after the U.S. Supreme Court has voted 5-4 to throw out mandatory life sentences in prison with parole for people who commit murder before the age of 18, the state high court may move forward, attorneys said.
A year ago Teresa and Bruce Elton, of Tooele, sat on the front row at the Utah Supreme Court appeals hearing for the man who pleaded guilty to raping and murdering their 22-year-old daughter on Feb. 15, 2006, in Clearfield.
Houston, who is now 23, was the first juvenile in Utah to receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Houston was sentenced after 11 out of 12 jurors in 2nd District Court in Farmington decided in April 2007 that he should serve a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. His sentence was automatically appealed.
The Utah Supreme Court was asked by Houston's appeals attorney to rule Houston's sentence as cruel and unusual punishment, which would make it unconstitutional.
Utah's justices decided to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on sentences of life without parole for juveniles, said Assistant Attorney General Christopher Ballard.
The Eltons don't think about Houston, but have patiently waited for the state's higher-court ruling.
"There isn't a day that goes by we don't think of Raechale," Teresa Elton said. "We don't get the option to redo what happened."
Houston was living at a Youth Health Associates group home in Clearfield where Raechale Elton worked.
Houston's attack on Raechale Elton was his third sexual assault. He slit her throat and then tried to cut out her trachea, besides trying to break her neck before she died, attorneys have said.
Ballard said the high court's ruling on Monday means Utah is doing the right thing.
Utah, unlike such states as North Carolina, does not have mandatory life without parole sentences for murder cases. At the time Houston was sentenced, juries in Utah made the decision, after hearing testimony concerning aggravated and mitigating evidence, between a sentence that offers the possibility of parole and a sentence without the possibility of parole, Ballard said. Now judges make that determination, if the death penalty is not an option.
Another Supreme Court ruling in 2005 made it so juveniles cannot receive the death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court took on North Carolina's law, which has a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles who commit some form of murder.
North Carolina is among 30 states that have mandatory sentences. More than 2,000 people are in U.S. prisons serving life without parole sentences, according to facts agreed on by attorneys for both sides of the case.
Attorneys in those states affected by the ruling can now ask judges to impose new sentences, and in some cases, inmates may be released.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.