OGDEN -- A hearing for oral arguments on a defense request to hire an expert on false confessions was scuttled Monday in favor of putting the expert herself on the stand.
The discussion is the latest in the now 31/2-year proceedings leading to September's death penalty murder trial of Jeremy Valdes.
The trial is set to begin Sept. 17 and run through October in 2nd District Court.
Valdes, 36, faces execution if convicted in the Nov. 25, 2009, killings of Matthew Roddy, 30, and Roddy's mother, Pamela Jeffries, 56. Their bodies were found stuffed in a closet in their Roy mobile home.
In a motion filed last week, Valdes' public defenders seek to hire Dr. Deborah Davis, the false confessions expert from the University of Nevada-Reno. Rather than hear arguments about admissibility and scientific credibility scheduled for Monday morning, Judge Mark DeCaria ordered county officials to pay for a one-day trip for Davis to Ogden to make her case. The hearing date is to be set around her schedule, currently complicated by finals week, Gary Barr, part of Valdes' public defender team, said later. Barr said Davis said she'll need a whole day on the stand to explain the science behind false confessions.
In Utah, public defenders, unlike private attorneys, have to justify expenditures to a judge with the advice of the county attorney's office.
In the false-confessions motion, Barr quotes a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision: "There is mounting empirical evidence that custodial police interrogation and its inherent pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never commit."
Summaries of professional literature point to nearly 800 articles relating to false confessions, according to the motion, including a 2004 study that says of 271 defendants exonerated through DNA testing, 25 percent had confessed.
The Weber County Attorney's Office has opposed the motion as irrelevant, because Valdes' statements likely won't come up at trial.
Valdes' alleged confession has been found inadmissible as direct evidence because of a flawed Miranda warning. DeCaria more than a year ago ruled it can be brought up only as "impeachment" evidence if Valdes takes the stand.
Deputy Weber County Attorney Branden Miles, one of the prosecutors assigned to Valdes' case, said a Utah Supreme Court decision could soon resolve the issue. A judge's denial of a defense request for a false confessions expert is one of the issues in Riqo Perea's appeal, he said. Perea is serving a life without parole prison term for a 2007 gang-related double homicide in Ogden.
Jeffries and Roddy were found in the closet five days after they died. An autopsy counted 31 knife wounds in Roddy's body. Jeffries had severe head injuries but died from asphyxiation.