OGDEN — An Ogden judge has struck down a man’s attempt to appeal his murder conviction from 2017, even after the man took to the witness stand Friday.
Gutberto Heras-Corrales, a 44-year-old Mexican national, was shackled and clad in white garb from the Utah State Prison as he appeared in an Ogden courtroom Friday afternoon. He also was wearing headphones, as two Spanish interpreters translated the entire hearing.
Heras-Corrales was charged with murder in August 2009, months after the body of Noemi Rodriguez was found by a snowplow driver on Dec. 26, 2008, near the Huntsville Cemetery. He was also charged with arson in Davis County after he reportedly set Rodriguez’s home on fire earlier in the year.
A Weber County jury found Heras-Corrales guilty of murder in November 2017, and in early January 2018 he was sentenced to a term of 15 years to life in prison. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge to resolve the Davis County arson case.
Since last summer, Heras-Corrales has tried to restore his ability to appeal his murder conviction. Typically, a defendant has 30 days after being sentenced to file an appeal. In the case of Heras-Corrales, he tried to begin his appeal process nearly a year after he was sentenced.
Heras-Corrales argued that he tried to appeal his case, even telling his trial counsel his desire to appeal, but nothing happened. In previous hearings, attorneys for Heras-Corrales argued that he believed one of his former attorneys, Cara Tangaro, was going to file an appeal on his behalf, but that didn’t happen.
On Friday, Tangaro was called to testify.
Tangaro explained that shortly after Heras-Corrales was sentenced to prison in the Weber County case, she and Scott Williams, the other attorney for Heras-Corrales, negotiated a plea agreement for the arson case in Davis County. She said one element of the plea agreement — which reduced the charge from a first-degree felony to a third-degree felony — was Heras-Corrales signing away his right to appeal both convictions.
At that point, she said, neither Heras-Corrales or one of his family members she had been working with said they wanted the Weber County murder case appealed to a higher court. Tangaro said that the waiver of a possible appeal was one reason why Davis County prosecutors accepted the plea deal.
“If he would have told me he wanted to appeal, I would have never done that in the Davis case,” Tangaro said Friday.
Tangaro said that she and Williams had told Heras-Corrales that signing the plea agreement would include his waiver of appealing the Weber County murder case as well.
After a brief recess, Judge Joseph Bean allowed Heras-Corrales to take the stand to testify.
Speaking through a translator, Heras-Corrales told the court he was not aware that he was signing away his right to appeal the murder case when he signed off on the plea agreement in Davis County. He only thought he was waiving his right to appeal the Davis County case.
Gage Crowther, an attorney for Heras-Corrales, argued there was a miscommunication between Heras-Corrales and Tangaro that led to the appeal not being filed. He said the breakdown could have occurred because Heras-Corrales speaks only Spanish, a language Tangaro doesn’t speak.
However, after hearing evidence for roughly an hour, Bean ruled against Heras-Corrales and struck down his bid for an appeal.
Bean cited evidence provided by the prosecution that showed text messages between Tangaro and a family member of Heras-Corrales, who had been acting as a translator between the attorney and client. Prosecutors argued that Tangaro and the family member were in regular contact, and if Heras-Corrales wanted to appeal his case, he would have told the family member to get in contact with Tangaro.
As of Friday, Heras-Corrales remains in the custody of the Utah State Prison in Draper.