Convicted murderer says life sentence was cruel

Jun 6 2011 - 2:08pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Robert Cameron Houston did not appear at the Utah Supreme Court, where his appeals attorney argued on Monday that his life sentence for aggravated murder was "cruel and unusual punishment."

But the family of Raechale Elton, the 22-year-old woman Houston was convicted of raping and murdering on Feb. 15, 2006, sat on the front row at an appeals hearing.

"The real victim, my daughter Raechele, got a sentence without parole," said Bruce Elton, the father of the woman who had worked at a YHA group home in Clearfield, where Houston had been living.

"Our family also got a life sentence, one that is not appealable, five years ago," Elton said after the hearing.

Elton said listening to Houston's appeals attorney argue that Houston's sentence was cruel and unusual punishment was "rubbing salt into a wound."

"It's justice what (Houston) got," Elton said.

The supreme court justices are taking the case under advisement and will issue a ruling at a later date.

Houston, who was 17 years old when he killed Raechele Elton, is the first juvenile in Utah to receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Houston is now 22 years old.

His appeals attorney, John Pace, argued before the supreme court justices the sentence is unconstitutional and that Houston had received "ineffective counsel" during the sentencing hearing in April of 2007 when 11 jurors out of 12 decided he should serve life without parole in the Utah State Prison.

Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee said during Monday's hearing that "justice has two sides."

Lee said appeals can "disrespect the victims" by not giving a finality to a case.

Pace said jurors did not receive adequate instruction on how to weigh mitigating factors against aggravating factors in the Houston case.

Pace said jurors were never told that juveniles who committed violent crimes are less likely to re-offend as they get older.

Attorney General Chris Ballard's argument said Houston's sentence was appropriate. When the jury sentenced him, it considered the context of his life and criminal history up to that point in addition to the crime itself.

Ballard said the crime "was at a level of depravity that is rarely seen in crimes committed by adults."

After Monday's the hearing Ballard said when Houston was sentenced, aggravated murder case sentences were decided by a jury. Now, if the death penalty is not an option, a judge decides if a person gets 25 years to life or life without parole in prison.

Also at the time of Raechale Elton's death, if the murder was committed at the same time of other acts, it automatically became a death penalty case. Now, prosecutors have to file an intent to seek the death penalty within 60 days after the defendant has entered a plea.

Ballard said this was Houston's third sexual assault and he not only slit Raechele Elton's throat, he also tried to cut out her trachea because "she wouldn't quit screaming," then tried several ways to break her neck before she died.


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