OGDEN -- In a standing-room-only courtroom completely filled with her family, friends and supporters, Debra Brown took the stand Friday to say she didn't do it.
She lost control of her emotions only once, when asked to describe what she saw upon finding the body of Lael Brown, the man she is convicted of killing in 1993.
In a halting voice she got out the sentence, "He was laying on his side toward the wall in a big pool of blood." She said she dialed 911 and waited on the porch.
Eleven months later, in September 1994, she was arrested for the killing, based largely on the fact she had a key to the dead man's home and was embezzling money from him.
Brown, 53, has been in prison since her 1995 conviction by a Cache County jury for the shooting death of her employer, Lael Brown, no relation.
Her two hours on the stand was likely the climax of her innocence trial, the first under a three-year-old state law that allows inmates to file civil suits against the state of Utah claiming wrongful incarceration.
The Factual Innocence statute requires newly discovered evidence in order to exonerate.
The case will test the statute's definition of newly discovered evidence, whether it can include evidence that was available when Brown was on trial but went undeveloped by police or defense counsel.
The evidentiary phase should wind up fairly quickly next week, after it reconvenes at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Second District Judge Michael DiReda is expected to take the case under advisement before deciding if he'll release Brown from Utah State Prison.
Lawyers working for free with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center at the University of Utah have been building Brown's case since 2002. The trial was moved from Logan to Ogden after judges there recused themselves.
Before Brown's testimony, Sylvan Bassett, of Logan, took the stand to talk about his friend, Bobby Sheen, who Brown's lawyers say was a much stronger suspect in the killing.
Bassett testified that three months after the Nov. 6, 1993, shooting death of Lael Brown, Sheen told him he'd killed him after being evicted from one of Brown's rental units. And Sheen was suddenly awash with cash -- Brown's, Bassett said.
Bassett said Sheen even had Brown's .22-caliber Colt Woodsman pistol used in the killing, which he later threw into Benson Marina, a canal pond outside Logan. The gun has never been found, even after the marina was subjected to a search by diving teams a few years ago at the request of the innocence center.
But under cross examination, Bassett said the reason he called the handgun Sheen showed him a Browning pistol in a prior report was because they resemble each other. Bassett, who has a long criminal record, never testified at Brown's 1995 trial, and Sheen was never even interviewed by police.
Sheen killed himself in 2007. In testimony Wednesday, Paul Masuyama, the innocence center's homicide expert, an LAPD veteran of 200 murder probes, sparred with Assistant Utah Attorney General Scott Reed over Masuyama's belief Sheen killed himself over guilt from killing Lael Brown.
Reed countered that Sheen attempted suicide in 2005, and left a note that made no mention of the killing, but apologized to people unrelated to the case.
Reed also noted Sheen had been evicted before and sarcastically asked Masuyama how many of his other landlords did Sheen kill. Reed's cross examination of Debra Brown was less than half of the 90 minutes he spent in cross examination of Masuyama.
The case has been scheduled to run through all of next week and Jan. 31, but proceedings have run ahead of schedule. And the attorney general's team has decided against calling to testify Brown's 1995 prosecutors, Don Linton, still a Cache County deputy attorney, and Jeff Burbank, now a 1st District Juvenile Court judge in Logan.