Prosecution, defense rest in 2007 'revenge' murder trial
Courts • If found guilty, Anthony Prater could face life in prison without parole.
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Anthony James Prater has been in and out of jail since he was a juvenile. He's a convicted felon, has spent time in prison. His nickname is Demon.

But defense attorneys tried to convince a jury Wednesday that he isn't a killer.

On the third day of Prater's murder trial, defense attorneys called two witnesses before resting their case in an attempt to spare 28-year-old Prater from spending years — and possibly the rest of his life — in prison.

Their first witness was convicted felon Troy Archuletta, who testified in 3rd District Court about a conversation he said he overheard while serving time in Utah state prison in 2008.

Archuletta, who wore a white prison jumpsuit on the stand and sat with hands cuffed behind his back, testified that while inside his cell, he overheard a man say Prater didn't kill Vincent Samora. He later identified the man he overheard as Ryan Hal Sheppard, the driver of the car from which Prater is accused of shooting Samora in the driveway of his mother's Glendale home on Nov. 27, 2007.

Throughout the trial, Prater's defense team has argued that Sheppard, 31, was the triggerman but lied to authorities to get a favorable plea deal. They pointed to a past disagreement Sheppard and Samora had over a woman as evidence that there was bad blood between the two men.

But prosecutors countered that Sheppard was not locked up in the same facility as Archuletta on the day he claimed to have overheard Sheppard discussing the case.

"Would it surprise you to know that Mr. Sheppard wasn't [in prison] on those days you mentioned?" asked county prosecutor Blake Hills.

"No," Archuletta said. "He was there."

Prosecutors said Archuletta had given similar testimony at another trial, in which he blamed a man's co-defendant for the crime he was accused of committing.

Archuletta denied this.

The defense's second witness, a handwriting expert, questioned the authenticity of letters in which Prater allegedly admitted to seeking revenge by killing Samora, who had identified Prater's former cellmate in a 2005 shooting. The defense then rested its case.

Closing arguments will be made Thursday morning before the case is turned over to the jury.

Prater is charged with aggravated murder and obstruction of justice, both first-degree felonies, and five counts of discharging a firearm from a vehicle, a third-degree felony. Typically, a guilty verdict on these charges would mean prison for life without parole or for 20 years to life.

But Judge Robin Reese ruled Wednesday to give the jury an extra option: Prater alternately could be found guilty of reckless manslaughter, for which he could spend up to 15 years in prison.

Defense attorneys argued Wednesday that the manslaughter charge was more applicable to the crime.

"Shooting from a moving vehicle suggests recklessness, not an intent to kill," said defense attorney Edward Brass. "Police said it themselves, this was just a lucky shot in a garden-variety drive-by."

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: marissa_jae