OGDEN -- A 2nd District judge has ruled the death penalty constitutional, neither a violation of rights to life and dignity nor cruel and unusual punishment.
Judge Mark DeCaria's rulings on a bevy of defense motions clears most of the final hurdles to the start of trial next month for Jeremy Valdes in the 2009 murders of Matthew Roddy, 30, and his mother, Pamela Jeffries, 56, in Roy.
In 36 pages of findings, DeCaria resolved the final 15 defense motions pending in the case, denying all but one.
Four other defense motions on procedural details were stipulated to with prosecutors. The 19 motions were filed in August by defense attorneys Gary Barr and Randall Marshall.
"Defendant fails to provide any cogent argument that the right to life and dignity is absolute," DeCaria wrote in denying a motion to declare the death penalty a violation of rights to life and liberty.
"Both state and federal constitutional provisions clearly allow that a person may be deprived of his or her life where principles of due process are satisfied."
In finding consistently the death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, DeCaria said, "by implication the U.S. Supreme Court also necessarily concluded that the death penalty does not, when constitutional standards are satisfied, violate a person's rights to life and dignity."
The defense had argued that individuals had an "unenumerated" natural and fundamental right to life and dignity under the Declaration of Independence and the Ninth Amendment, which states that rights enumerated in the Constitution "shall not be construed to deny or disparage those retained by the people."
DeCaria wrote that "Defendant has not satisfied his burden of demonstrating that he possesses a 'retained' absolute right to life and dignity that requires the court to declare the death penalty unconstitutional."
In finding the death penalty is not cruel and unusual, DeCaria quoted the U.S. Supreme Court's statement that executions are not cruel and unusual if "the practice is accepted among our people."
"Currently the democratically elected legislators in 33 states have enacted statutes that permit the death penalty," DeCaria wrote, citing the Death Penalty Information Center, a group opposed to the death penalty, which tracks executions and runs an online clearinghouse of information on capital homicide.
Among the states abolishing the death penalty, he noted three of those states did so in the 1800s, while seven have banned it in the last 47 years.
The judge also rejected arguments that Utah's death penalty statute violates a constitutional requirement that jury decisions in criminal cases be unanimous. The law allows a jury to opt for a sentence of life in prison without parole by at least a 10-2 vote.
DeCaria ruled that the ban on less-than-unanimous jury votes applies only to verdicts, not sentencing.
In the successful defense motion, Valdes, if convicted, would be allowed to make a statement, known as allocution, to the jury without being sworn in or cross-examined.
DeCaria ruled allocution is allowed as long as it is limited to asking for lenience "or understanding" at sentencing. Cross-examination would follow if the allocution strayed into areas "contesting or advancing the evidence."
Trial is set for seven days between Jan. 8 and Feb. 15. A penalty phase would follow if Valdes is convicted.
Still pending before DeCaria is Valdes' request this week to represent himself at trial because of his dissatisfaction with his court-appointed defense team. The judge set a Dec. 13 hearing date to announce if he would allow Valdes to do so.
Jeffries and Roddy were found dead in a closet in their home on 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 has been sentenced to prison. She has testified against Valdes.