OGDEN — Coronavirus worries are disrupting some operations in Utah’s court system, the postponement of a Hooper man’s murder trial among those effects.
Related to the trial’s cancellation, Cory Michael Fitzwater’s attorney wants him freed from jail because he has an immune system illness that makes him vulnerable to the disease.
Fitzwater, 36, had been set to face trial this week in the Aug. 16, 2018, shooting of Brian Racine, a 28-year-old homeless man, in a wooded transient camp.
But 2nd District Judge Camille Neider canceled the trial, responding to guidance from Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant that jury trials should be put off during the pandemic.
In a court motion asking for Fitzwater’s release from the Weber County Jail pending trial, attorney Randall Richards cited Gov. Gary Herbert’s recommendation that people who are immunocompromised should not be in gatherings of more than 20 people.
Richards said Fitzwater is “suffering from an undiagnosed skin condition that has riddled his entire body with lesions and open sores.” He also has been “diagnosed with a rectal fistula and the jail doctors have recommended he undergo surgical treatment.”
Fitzwater, Richards wrote, “is undeniably an immuno-compromised person” as described in the governor’s directive.
“He should not be permitted, for his safety, for the safety of other inmates, and for the well-being of the public at large, to remain in that facility, especially given the reality that jails are notoriously unsanitary environments,” Richards said in the motion filed Thursday.
Richards requested an expedited hearing on his request. As of Tuesday, no hearing was scheduled.
The Weber County Jail has announced measures to guard against coronavirus infection, including broadened medical screening of new detainees and quarantining of any inmates who exhibit signs of illness.
Durrant ordered Friday that all nonessential hearings will be delayed until further notice.
Hearings over determination of custody status will be given priority, said Geoff Fattah, Utah State Courts spokesman.
“Anyone who is arrested has a right to a bail hearing,” Fattah said.
Other hearings that are considered vital include hearings on fair and speedy trials, he said.
Durrant urged judges to work with attorneys to accomplish as much as possible amid the pandemic. Health authorities have issued guidance advising against close gatherings of numerous people.
Other court business remains open, including filings for protective and restraining orders, Fattah said.
“For those who may not feel well, contact the courts and we will make special arrangements to deliver those for filing,” he said.
Durrant said in a press release, “Using technology, we will continue to find ways to serve the public while reducing the number of people who need to physically come to court.”
That includes expanded use of phone or video hearings and documents filed by email.
The chief justice will issue further orders as conditions warrant, Fattah said.
Fitzwater and Dalton Aiken, 28, of North Ogden, were charged in the killing of Racine near the 21st Street Pond in Ogden. Aiken told police they went there to “find and harass” homeless people.
Aiken and Fitzwater blamed each other for the shooting. A jury convicted Aiken in July 2019 and he’s serving a prison sentence of 16 years to life.