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The Utah Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of a gang leader who ordered a subordinate to kill a woman suspected of being a snitch.
In 2010, Joshua Binkerd, charged with aggravated murder, was convicted of the lesser included charge of manslaughter for his role in a 2008 murder of Ashley Sparks, 22, at Jordanelle State Park.
He was ordered to spend up to 20 years in the Utah State Prison for manslaughter and an added firearms enhancement to the crime.
After his trial, he contended that he was inadequately represented by Heber City-based attorney Edward Jones and asked the courts to overturn his conviction.
Binkerd's appeal attorney argued that Jones was ineffective at trial because he was unaware of a line of cases that calls into question whether someone can be convicted as an accomplice to a crime if his intent is different. In Binkerd's case, the difference between murder and manslaughter was whether he acted intentionally or recklessly in causing Ashley Sparks' death.
But the Utah Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a person can be convicted as an accomplice to a crime even if their intent was not for that particular crime to be committed, so long as their actions were reasonable in establishing the basis for the crime.
In this case, the court argued, Binkerd's suggestion that his subordinate return from a trip to Jordanelle Park without Sparks, whom he had threatened with death and violence before, was enough of a basis to tie him to the killing even without his explicit intent.
According to testimony at trial, Binkerd, now 27, was the leader of a loose-knit gang that trafficked methamphetamine.
He ordered another man, Chris Alvey, now 24, to kill Sparks after she was discovered with a tape recorder and a list of numbers from another gang member's phone, according to prosecutors.
Alvey, who is serving up to life in prison for murder after he pleaded guilty and testified against Binkerd at trial, said the gang boss rewarded him with a blue bandana for "doing a good job" when he pushed the woman out of a van near Jordanelle Park and shot her four times.
Binkerd told police that he instructed Alvey to take Sparks out of town and make sure she didn't come back. Alvey testified in court that he believed it was an order to kill.
Binkerd has denied this.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Ryan Tenney said Binkerd's case is based on a "shaky" reading of the case law.
"We think this was a just verdict," he said.
The appeals court agreed.
"It is not necessary for the accomplice to have the same intent that the principal actor possessed as long as the accomplice intended that an offense be committed," the court wrote in its opinion. "There is ample evidence to support a determination that [Binkerd] acted recklessly."
The court also found that since Binkerd was not wrongly convicted, he was adequately represented by his attorney.