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The Utah Supreme Court on Monday heard for the third time arguments by attorneys representing death-row inmate Troy Michael Kell, who wants his conviction for fatally stabbing a fellow prisoner at a state prison in 1994 to be overturned.
Megan Blythe Moriarty, a federal public defender representing Kell, said Kell's prior attorneys failed to investigate 106 claims that Kell identifies as "red flags" in how his case was handled.
Among Kell's chief concerns is a claim that his attorneys didn't investigate and present to a jury "mitigating circumstances" that may have swayed jurors to convict Kell to life in prison instead of death for the July 6, 1994 murder of Lonnie Blackmon at the Gunnison prison.
Video footage captured another inmate holding Blackmon, 32, down while a 26-year-old Kell stabbed him 67 times with a shank. Blackmon was serving a sentence for robbery and theft. He had been transferred to Utah's prison from Arkansas, while Kell had been transferred to Utah from Las Vegas.
Kell, now 42, was convicted in Nevada for the 1986 murder of a Canadian tourist in Las Vegas. He was sentenced to two life sentences. A Sanpete County jury in 1996 convicted Kell of capital murder and sentenced him to die for Blackmon's murder.
The execution has failed to proceed as the case continues to be held up in appeals.
"This is an ugly case," Moriarty told the high court. "That is why it required good and thorough [investigation into] post-conviction relief. His counsel didn't do anything."
Assistant Utah Attorney General Thomas Brunker disputed Moriarty's claims, arguing that Kell's counsel did an in-depth examination of potential post-penalty conviction options. Brunker said "every effort to curb Kell's violence have been tried and failed" leaving death as the only punishment not tried.
Kell, a white supremacist, yelled "white power" while wiping the blood of Blackmon, an African-American, from his hands as other inmates cheered. Kell stabbed Blackmon nine times in the eyes, a tactic Brunker said was done to ensure the victim experienced the most excruciating pain possible.
Brunker said that evidence in Kell's case includes testimony from a guard he threatened, saying he had "nothing to lose" by acting out in prison because he was already serving two life sentences in the Nevada case.
If the high court should rule in Kell's favor, Brunker said, it could open the door for the other eight inmates on Utah's death row to stall out their cases by filing similar post-conviction relief appeals.
Continued violence following Blackmon murder
Troy Michael Kell continued to make a name for himself in prison by attacking inmates of other races following Blackmon's murder.
A former prisoner who is Muslim, Jacques Dupree Miranda, sued the Utah Department of Corrections in 2009 alleging his right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment was violated after he was attacked by Kell. Miranda, who is of African-American and French heritage, alleged he was harassed by corrections officers and inmates after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks because of his faith.
Kell squeezed out of his cell on Sept. 20, 2001, when Officer Ryan Healey opened the door slightly from a control panel to allow him to reach for a bucket of ice. Kell confronted Miranda in a recreation area and chased him back into his cell.
Miranda, a convicted robber, alleged he was knocked unconscious by Kell and suffered severe injuries. A federal jury awarded Miranda $25,000 in 2009.