OGDEN — Judge Ernie Jones ruled Friday that the emotional 22-minute 911 call from the night Esther Fujimoto died at Pineview Reservoir is admissable in the upcoming trials of three men charged in the swimmer’s death.
Jones also ruled after oral arguments in 2nd District Court that photos of Fujimoto’s body taken the night she died and the next day will also be allowed.
Defense attorneys had sought to block the photos and the tape as unfairly prejudicial to their clients. The judge did rule that only black-and-white prints could be used.
In the 911 tape, Donald Vaughn Anderson pleads with a dispatcher for help with Fujimoto, often screaming in describing her as he held her afloat, unable to pull her into his small rowboat for fear of capsizing.
Fujimoto likely died during the time the call was made, according to medical testimony.
Fujimoto was struck by a boat while swimming in Pineview on Aug. 21, 2011. Three men are charged not so much for hitting her with the boat, which police believe was an accident, but for fleeing the scene and later telling police at Pineview boat ramps they knew nothing of the incident.
Skyler Shepherd, Colton Raines and Robert Cole Boyer are all charged with class A misdemeanor obstruction of justice.
Raines and Shepherd also are charged with class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment and class B misdemeanor failure to render aid.
Jones on Friday also separated the cases for trial. Shepherd will be tried Dec. 10-12; Boyer and Raines will be tried together Feb. 11-14.
On the tape played at a preliminary hearings in July, Anderson is heard giving directions for emergency crews to find him and Fujimoto.
His voice is breaking as he screams at Fujimoto, “Don’t leave me … no!”
The intensity of the emotion has him obviously in tears as he says, “Her mouth is moving. She opened her mouth,” as the dispatcher kept saying, “Keep her head above water for me.”
“It’s the defendants’ claims that they thought she was OK, so they left,” the judge said in announcing his ruling from the bench. “Anyone who listens to this tape knows she is not OK.”
Jones noted that Anderson is also heard on the tape describing obvious lacerations up and down the woman’s lower body, his witnessing the boat leave and other statements that amount to evidence.
Defense attorney Rebecca Skordas, representing Boyer and Raines, argued unsuccessfully Friday that Anderson is available to testify and could recount events without “the emotional component. What probative value does the emotional component have? That’s the only additional information the tape provides.”
Shepherd’s attorney, Glen Neeley, argued, also unsuccessfully, that the tape offered no corroboration of whether the boaters heard Fujimoto’s alleged screams.
“All the tape will do is stir up the sympathy of jurors for the witness and the victim,” he said.
Fujimoto, 49, was a molecular biologist at the University of Utah. The official cause of death was massive blood loss as a result of cuts from propeller blades to her lower body.
Her sister, Deniece, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the three men.