OGDEN — A hearing Tuesday in 2nd District Court offered a glimpse of the time and expense of pursuing the death penalty.
Jeremy Valdes, 36, is charged with two counts of capital homicide in the Nov. 25, 2009, killings of Matthew Roddy, 30, and Roddy’s mother, Pamela Jeffries, 56, in their Roy mobile home.
Trial is set to begin Jan. 8.
Three deputy Weber County attorneys were on hand Tuesday to argue the last of the case’s 19 pretrial motions from two public defenders representing Valdes. While not on hand for Tuesday’s oral arguments, two other attorneys from the prosecution have filed briefs in the case. They are all salaried lawyers paid in the six-figure range. The public defenders are contracted with the county in the five-figure range.
After Tuesday’s hearing, the case now appears ready to go to trial beginning as scheduled — which will be more than three years after Roddy and Jeffries died.
The defense motions filed by Gary Barr and Randall Marshall necessitating Tuesday’s three-hour hearing covered the gamut of issues, such as the constitutionality of the death penalty and whether it was prejudicial to refer to the testimony to begin in January as the ”guilt phase” of the trial, which is the actual statutory language. If a conviction results, the “penalty phase” follows.
But the attorneys on both sides told Judge Mark DeCaria they wouldn’t be arguing that motion, having “stipulated” or agreed not to use the words guilt phase.
DeCaria said he hoped to be able to issue an all-encompassing ruling on all the remaining motions “within the next week or so.”
Marshall argued in favor of allowing extensive enough questioning of prospective jurors to weed out extreme beliefs.
“Those that are, and I use this term loosely, bloodthirsty are going to want to serve on the jury,” Marshall argued.
“While those who are uncomfortable with the death penalty will try to get out of serving, which will make for a lopsided jury pool.”
Public defenders are duty-bound to raise every challenge because of the extreme scrutiny death penalty convictions receive on appeal, which are automatic and budgeted for by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
So some of Tuesday’s arguments centered on whether “prior unajudicated criminal behavior” is admissible at trial and whether to exclude jurors who believe in blood atonement — issues that never come up during murder trials that don’t feature the death penalty.
The blood atonement question, a religious belief in the shedding of blood as penalty for crimes involving the shedding of blood, was also stipulated to by the lawyers Tuesday. It will not automatically mean dismissal from the juror pool.
And Valdes also essentially asked to start over again, asking for new attorneys, which would have canceled the trial.
“I just essentially dread if I go forward with these guys … They don’t know me, how are they going to know my peers?” he told DeCaria at the end of the hearing in claiming a strained relationship with his public defenders.
The judge interrupted Valdes to say Barr and Marshall have effectively argued his case. “They have your best interests at heart. I’m not going to boot them from the case.”
DeCaria said if Valdes were claiming his attorneys are neglecting his case or are lazy, he might consider their removal. “Your reasons are your reasons. But they are not reasons enough to remove them,” the judge said.
The case has also featured a suppression hearing stretched over a year before Barr was able to have Valdes’ purported confession thrown out because of a flawed Miranda warning.
Jeffries and Roddy were found dead in a closet in their Roy home Nov. 30, 2009, five days after they died. Police say Valdes killed the two after they reported to police that prescription drugs had been stolen from their home and that Valdes and his girlfriend, Miranda Statler, may have taken them.
Statler pleaded guilty to lesser charges as an accomplice and is serving a potential 20-year prison term. She has testified against Valdes.