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A Utah death-penalty case is on hold while attorneys for an inmate accused of killing his cellmate appeal a judge's decision to allow jurors to see a confession letter penned by the alleged killer.
Steven Douglas Crutcher, 34, is charged in Manti's 6th District Court with aggravated murder, accused of strangling 62-year-old Rolando Cardona-Gueton inside their cell at the Gunnison prison in April 2013.
For months, officials believed Cardona-Gueton committed suicide inside his cell. But the investigation took a different turn in July 2013 when Crutcher sent a letter to Sanpete County Attorney Brody Kiesel in which the inmate allegedly admitted to murder.
Crutcher's attorney, Edward Brass, asked Judge Wallace Lee to keep jurors from seeing that letter or a subsequent letter intercepted months later that also contains a alleged confession. Brass argued that the confessions were coerced because his client has been placed in "restrictive isolation" in the prison for weeks after Cardona-Gueton's death and further said that Crutcher was not given an attorney when he asked for one when initially interviewed as a witness on the day of the death. Crutcher wasn't appointed an attorney, Brass argued, until he was charged with aggravated murder in September 2013.
But the judge ruled in November that under Utah's current laws, a defendant does not have a right to an attorney until the state initiates criminal proceedings. Lee further ruled that if Crutcher did have a right to counsel, he waived that right when he voluntarily wrote the letter and sent it to the county attorney.
Earlier this month, Brass asked that the case be halted so they can appeal the judge's decision to the Utah Supreme Court. He wrote in a court filing that he will ask the high court to decide, "Did the lower court err in denying Crutcher's motion to suppress his statements made in the absence of counsel and as having been coerced?"
Crutcher's case is currently scheduled to go to trial on April 18, 2016, and continue through May 20. The alleged killing qualifies as a death-penalty eligible crime because it was committed inside of a prison, according to Keisel.
Keisel said last year that a bedsheet torn into strips and braided together was used to kill Cardona-Gueton, who had been at the prison since 2011, serving time for theft and drug distribution.
The county attorney said the two inmates had shared a cell together for just a few days before the alleged murder occurred.
Crutcher is currently serving a sentence of up to life in prison for an 2009 aggravated kidnapping conviction, according to court records.