Jury weighing fate of Cottonwood Heights man accused of killing his wife
Man could evade life sentence if jury finds he acted out of extreme emotional distress.
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Two killers were depicted in court on Thursday:

One was Dennis Lambdin, the loving husband, who the defense said killed his wife in a fit of blind rage, lashing out after nine years of abuse and infidelity.

The other was Dennis Lambdin, the spurned spouse, who the prosecution said planned and then brutally executed his wife's murder, stabbing her 19 times.

As each side presented closing arguments before a jury in 3rd District Court, only one question remained: which killer would the jury find guilty of slaying Touch Choun?

Lambdin, 64, is charged with first-degree felony murder in the 2009 death of his 41-year-old wife.

But if the jury finds he acted due to extreme emotional distress — a condition that asks whether a "reasonable person" would lose control and commit an act that would otherwise be out of character — he could instead be convicted of a lesser count of second-degree felony manslaughter. And instead of life in prison, he would face a maximum of 15 years.

The eight members of the jury were sent home Thursday evening due to inclement weather and will return to continue deliberating Friday.

"This is a case about a man who snapped and did something horrible," said defense attorney McCaye Christianson. "The fact that Dennis Lambdin snapped does not mean what he did was OK. It's not OK. It's the brutal killing of an innocent person. ... It happened because he was under the influence of extreme emotional distress."

The defense rested its case Wednesday without calling a single witness, choosing instead to present their entire case in closing arguments before the jury and 3rd District Judge Vernice Trease.

Before she was stabbed and bludgeoned to death on Aug,. 17, 2009, at the couple's Cottonwood Heights home, Choun had lived a tumultuous life.

Throughout the trial, defense attorneys referred to acts of chronic infidelity, alcoholism and gambling. They said this behavior caused Lambdin to suffer throughout their nine-year marriage. The day before she was killed, Choun demanded a divorce.

"He did love her and wanted to be with her," Christianson said. "He said he was enraged, he lost it, he snapped. ... The horror of it all should be indicative of its honesty."

But the prosecution argued Lambdin knew perfectly well the kind of problems his wife faced and was given ample opportunity to leave the floundering marriage. He was insulted and embarrassed by his wife's acts of betrayal, prosecutors said, so he killed her as an act of revenge.

They pointed to confession letters Lambdin wrote, in which he admitted to killing his wife, hours before she arrived home that morning.

"When the defendant writes a letter that says, 'Yes, I killed [Choun],' then six hours later he stabs and bludgeons her until she is dead, it proves what he was thinking," prosecutor Fred Burmester said. "This is not extreme emotional distress. This is a reaction to her defying his will."

Defense attorneys countered that Lambdin's actions were too haphazard to have been planned, including his choice of weapon: a kitchen knife still covered in chopped herbs.

Prosecutors maintained Lambdin's actions were not that of a reasonable person who lost control, but of a deliberate killer.

"There are many people who have spouses who drink, who gamble, who cheat. But their response to that experience is [to get a divorce]," Burmester said. "This was not extreme emotional distress. This was a cold, calculated murder. Touch Choun did not deserve what she got."

No family members of Lambdin or Choun, who has three grown children, have attended the trial.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: marissa_jae