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Public defenders worse than chimps, letter sent by Utah County prosecutor says

Published January 4, 2012 11:05 am

Court • Convict's attorneys using letter to argue client got ineffective assistance at trial.
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Provo • A letter sent by a Utah County prosecutor to county officials calling the public defenders' office a "huge embarrassment" and a "waste of money" is being used by new attorneys for a man convicted of murder as they argue he received ineffective assistance at trial.

Two weeks after Ramon Somoza, 31, was convicted in September of killing a former employee — an act he claims was in self-defense — and then dumping his body in the desert, Utah County prosecutor Donna Kelly faxed the letter to county commissioners and the Utah County Public Defenders Office, according to a motion filed in 4th District Court.

Kelly said she faxed the letter, signed anonymously by a "taxpayer in Utah County" and accusing Somoza's public defenders of poor practices, from a FedEx office but has denied authoring it.

Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman called the letter a "non-issue" and said Kelly was handed the letter outside the courthouse after hours and agreed to send it. Defense attorneys discovered Kelly was the sender by watching security footage from the FedEx office, according to court documents.

"She was simply passing it along. She doesn't know who it was [who gave her the letter]," Buhman said Wednesday.

Somoza claims that his public defenders were ineffective and his new legal team sought to disqualify Judge Lynn Davis on the grounds that the judge was a witness to the acts alleged in the letter. That motion was denied Tuesday by Davis and another judge.

In the letter, the writer called the three attorneys who represented Somoza a "huge joke" and said that "monkeys would do a much better job."

"One of the attorneys fell asleep several times right in the courtroom," states the letter writer, claiming to be a courtroom regular over the last 20 years who watched "most" of Somoza's trial. "Another [attorney] kept doing improper things that the judge ordered him not to, and he just kept right on. The other woman acted like a three-year-old child stomping around the courtroom and throwing temper tantrums when she didn't get her way. The three of them acted like complete idiots the whole trial."

The letter went on to say, "If the Commissioners want to save money, they should close the public defenders office and get a bunch of trained chimpanzees to represent criminals. The monkeys would do a much better job and would be way cheaper."

Somoza appeared in court Wednesday afternoon in connection with the December 2009 slaying of Jesus Landin. His new attorneys, M. Paige Benjamin and Dana Facemyer, said they planned to file a motion to arrest judgment in the case. A hearing was set for Jan. 23, at which time Somoza could be sentenced to prison for up to life for his first-degree murder conviction.

Utah County prosecutor Chad Grunander said Somoza's public defenders had been "anything but ineffective" and called the motion "a delay tactic."

"[Somoza] should be at the state prison right now," he said.

At trial, Somoza told jurors he shot his former employee in self-defense. He left Landin's body in the basement of his American Fork dance hall businesses, then dumped it in the desert near West Wendover, Nev., in the middle of the night on Jan. 1, 2010. Prosecutors said Somoza worried that the 46-year-old Landin was trying to ruin his business and the two men were arguing over a debt of $400.





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