OGDEN -- The possibility of an innocent person residing at the Utah State Prison got its first day at trial this morning.
Debra Brown has been in prison since her 1995 conviction for the shooting death of her employer, Lael Brown, no relation.
Her innocence trial is scheduled to run through the month, longer than the five-day trial in Logan that convicted her. It's the first under Utah's fledgling factual Innocence statute.
The case now before 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda was moved from Logan last year when judges there recused themselves.
In opening statements this morning, Allan Sullivan, Brown's lead counsel, contended that the key elements in the prosecutor's closing arguments at Brown's 1995 trial have all been proven false.
Those damaging pieces of evidence were that Brown had the only other key to the victim's home, there was no forced entry and evidence of forged checks she made on the dead man's checking account were the only bank records missing from his home.
Sullivan said it's now established there was another key to Lael Brown's home in circulation, his home was in such disrepair forced entry was undetectible and a great many bank records were missing. Sullivan, a well-known Salt Lake City lawyer, is working pro bono with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center at the University of Utah, which has been investigating Brown's case since 2002.
In his opening statement, Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed said Brown's case would leave the courtroom "thickly shrouded with smoke."
Reed said under the innocence statute, Brown must provide verifiable proof as to who she feels is the real killer.
"She cannot," Reed said. "The best she can do is say she didn't do it, it must be someone else."
He noted that Debra Brown has now admitted to forging checks to Lael Brown's checking account, something she strongly denied at her trial in Logan. Prosecutors at the time said the murder was committed to cover up the forgeries.
At least three other cases suing the State of Utah under the innocence statute are pending statewide, including that of a Weber County man. All are still in the motion phase.