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Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is emphatic: He does not blame the judge, jury, prosecution or defense in the acquittal of the man who stood trial last week in the death of Millard Country Sheriff's Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox.
Shurtleff has been criticized for saying, at a huge Sunday rally, that "there is no justice when a cop killer walks free."
The accused, Roberto Miramontes Román, had confessed to killing Fox, but later said that her brother, Ryan Greathouse, fired the shots. Not long after his sister's death, Ryan Greathouse had told investigators that Román killed her. But the judge reasoned that because Ryan had died and could not be cross-examined, his statement could not be heard in court.
On Wednesday, I asked Shurtleff to explain what he meant about the "no justice" statement.
"The result is an injustice, in the same way the O.J. Simpson result was an injustice. I don't think you'll find anyone in this country who doesn't believe that was an injustice," Shurtleff said Wednesday.
"I know Román killed her. He's a murderer, he's a cop killer," he said. "An acquittal means we didn't prove our case."
That, too, is justice.
As a juror who once helped acquit a defendant on much lesser charges, I can say that the six of us went round and round before concluding the evidence was insufficient to convict. We all understood the weight of the responsibility we bore, and I believe the Román jury felt the same way.
"It's very remarkable what happens to eight or 12 people when they follow the rules and listen to the evidence," said veteran defense attorney Mary Corporon. "Nobody is in a better position than they are to make a decision."
On Sunday, about 4,400 people, many of them police officers, joined in the annual Ride for the Fallen and a rally at the Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol grounds.
"The point I made was … we all think an injustice was done," Shurtleff said, adding that many people showed up to "support what law enforcement does and recognize the sacrifice that so many made.
"I made it clear to the police officers. You can be upset with this, but you still go to work and do your job," he said. "That's justice. That's the principle. We're still going to protect people and protect people's civil and constitutional rights."
Including, he said, those accused of a crime. "That's the system we have, the best system in the world."
Román, convicted of two third-degree felonies, could face up to 10 years in prison. He would be deported to Mexico after his release, but Shurtleff says he's already been convicted of prior felonies and deported, only to come right back to the States.
The U.S. Attorney for Utah's office is reviewing what options it might have in Román's case.
But if he is deported and then comes back yet again, Shurtleff believes Román should be sentenced to mandatory life in federal prison. "I hope that's what he gets."
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.