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What should happen to a man who agrees to testify against an old friend, gets immunity from prosecutors as a result of that agreement, but then ultimately reneges and refuses to testify?
The fate of Wade Maughan hinges on the answer to the question, which was considered Thursday morning by the Utah Supreme Court. State attorneys hope to charge Maughan with obstruction of justice for his refusal to testify against Glen Griffin, Maughan's old friend who was convicted of murder in 2008.
The case began in 1984 when 22-year-old gas station employee Bradley Perry was killed in Box Elder County. Years later, a DNA match linked Griffin to the crime and an investigation eventually led prosecutors to charge him and Maughan with murder.
Prosecutors later hoped to use Maughan as a witness against Griffin. In order to get Maughan to testify, they promised him they wouldn't use whatever he said on the stand against him.
Maughan accepted the agreement technically known as getting immunity but when the time came for him to testify he refused.
A jury ultimately acquitted Maughan of murder. Griffin took a plea bargain and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
But because Maughan refused to testify even after getting immunity prosecutors charged him with obstruction of justice. A magistrate threw out the charge after a 2010 preliminary hearing and state attorneys appealed that decision.
During Thursday's supreme court hearing, assistant attorney general Christopher Ballard argued that the magistrate as well as the appeals court that upheld the magistrate's ruling were wrong. Ballard's goal Thursday was to prove that Maughan might reasonably have obstructed justice and a jury should be allowed to hear the case, not that Maughan was actually guilty.
Ballard said it was reasonable to infer that Maughan obstructed justice because he confessed to having a role in the murder, was good friends with Griffin when it happened, and was granted immunity but then refused to cooperate. After the hearing, Ballard said that information was enough to meet the low burden of proof required to charge a person and go to trial.
But Maughan's lawyers disagreed. Attorney Richard Mauro told judges Thursday there was no evidence that Maughan had refused to testify because he wanted to obstruct the case against Griffin. Instead, Mauro said, Maughan was trying to protect himself from additional charges that could have resulted if, while testifying, he contradicted his earlier confession.
Scott C. Williams, another defense attorney on the case, added after the hearing that Maughan's confessions to police had been coerced and that he wouldn't have been trying to protect Griffin because Griffin dragged him into the case.
The supreme court did not issue a ruling Thursday.