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It took 10 years for police to determine Williams Rodriguez killed a teenager in a home-invasion robbery gone bad, and by then the only charge prosecutors could file was for murder.
The statute of limitations had expired on a robbery charge. So had the limitations on any crime connected to the second person whom Rodriguez wounded with a bullet in the buttocks during the robbery in 1995.
But a bill that has passed the Utah House of Representatives says an "aggravating offense" committed in the process of homicide can be prosecuted anytime.
"It's our position that the defendant ought to be held accountable for all these offenses that have occurred," Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Vince Meister said Tuesday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The bill, HB52, would most often affect cases in which robbery, burglary or witness retaliation is also alleged. In some cases, those limits are four years. There is no statute of limitations on most serious sex crimes.
Meister sees the change as a way to bring justice to more victims. Opponents see it as an extra burden on defendants.
Kent Morgan, who is Meister's former colleague at the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office and is now a defense attorney, said the bill could complicate so-called "cold case" trials that already rely on old evidence. Witnesses who could supply the defendant with an alibi or otherwise challenge the prosecution's case may be dead or gone, Morgan said.
"When it comes to an actual case where your life is at stake and you're presumed not to have done it, do you really need to defend another offense and another felony for which you may be facing life in prison?" Morgan asked during the hearing.
Shima Baradaran, an associate professor of law at Brigham Young University, said the bill could "expand victims' rights" by allowing prosecutors to charge a person for more crimes he or she committed. But Baradaran said removing the limitations could also lead to some wrongful convictions.
"As a matter of common sense, evidence that is 20 years old is not going to be reliable," Baradaran said in an interview.
Meister said under the current limitations, prosecutors in cold-case murder trials must prove everything that happened in conjunction with the murder they just can't charge the defendant with those additional crimes. That sometimes confuses jurors who wonder why they aren't deliberating on those lesser offenses, Meister said. Also, Meister said, some states don't have statutes of limitations.
Rodriguez killed 17-year-old Arian Salguer Huerta on Oct. 31, 1995, in Salt Lake County. He was charged with murder in 2005 after a retired sheriff's officer heard Rodriguez had talked about the murder. Rodriguez pleaded guilty the following year and is scheduled for a parole hearing in 2025.
P HB52 has been sent to the Utah Senate for consideration. A hearing there has not been scheduled.