SALT LAKE CITY -- Robert Cameron Houston did not appear before the Utah Supreme Court while his appeals attorney argued Monday that his life sentence for aggravated murder is "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 the 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 Youth Health Associates 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.
He said listening to Houston's appeals attorney argue that Houston's sentence is cruel and unusual punishment was "rubbing salt into a wound."
"It's justice what (Houston) got," Elton said.
The justices are taking the case under advisement and will issue a ruling at a later date.
Houston, who was 17 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.
His appeals attorney, John Pace, argued before the justices that the sentence is unconstitutional and that Houston had received "ineffective counsel" during the sentencing hearing in April 2007 when 11 jurors out of 12 decided he should serve life without parole in 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 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 commit violent crimes are less likely to reoffend as they get older.
The argument by Assistant Attorney General Chris Ballard said Houston's sentence is appropriate. When the jury sentenced Houston, 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 hearing, Ballard said that 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.
Also, at the time of Raechale Elton's death, if the murder was committed at the same time as 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," and then tried several ways to break her neck before she died.
Justices also heard arguments in a case involving a condemned inmate appealing his sentence for the 1994 killing of a fellow prisoner.
Troy Michael Kell was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1994 fatal stabbing of Lonnie Blackmon at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison.
Authorities said Kell is a white supremacist who had been involved in race-related altercations with several black inmates, including Blackmon. The murder, captured on videotape, showed Blackmon was stabbed 67 times -- including nine times in the eyes.
Kell's federal public defender, Megan Moriarity, argued his counsel was ineffective by failing to point out mitigating evidence. Utah Assistant Attorney General Tom Brunker told justices there weren't any mitigating factors.
"He committed this murder while in prison, while serving life without parole for a prior murder," Brunker said. "Every effort to curb his violence short of a death sentence has been tried and failed. After all that, a jury sentenced him to death."
Justices took the case under consideration.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.