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Attorneys for death-row inmate Douglas Stewart Carter say police gave money and gifts to two key witnesses in the case and then told them to lie about it at Carter's 1985 trial.
In affidavits filed this month in 4th District Court, the witnesses claim the Provo Police Department paid their rent and utilities, bought them groceries, gifts and a Christmas tree, and even made cash payments to them for about an eight-month period information Carter's attorneys say was never provided to the defense.
"We are adamant that this is highly improper and that something should be done to resolve these issues," said Ken Murray, a federal public defender based in Phoenix.
Carter came to the home of his friends Epifanio and Lucia Tovar and bragged about the murder of Eva Olesen, even demonstrating how he stabbed the woman nearly a dozen times before shooting her in the back of the head during a 1985 robbery at her home, the Tovars testified at the 1985 trial.
They also testified they received only a $14 witness fee.
But Epifanio Tovar stated recently in an affidavit that "officials of the police department told us that if we were asked at trial, we were not to say anything about their paying for our apartment and other living expenses."
Attorneys were unable to find the Tovars for Carter's 1992 re-sentencing hearing, and attorneys launched unsuccessful searches for the couple in subsequent years.
Murray said the affidavits secured after the Tovars were recently located in Mexico should allow Carter to reopen his second post-conviction relief case.
"Clearly the Tovars were provided significant benefits while also suffering extreme coercion to cooperate with authorities in Mr. Carter's case," Murray wrote in court documents.
The new fillings also seek to delay other appeals in the 26-year-old murder case.
"It's beyond ridiculous," said Gary Olesen, the victim's son. "His attorneys are just dreaming up excuses now. ... He's gone through two trials. Twenty-four people have convicted him for murder and here we are today. There's no doubt he's done it. [Carter's execution] needs to be carried out."
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker said his office is still investigating the defense claims. At least two former Provo police officers, in affidavits filed earlier this month, said the Tovars received some assistance from the department, including groceries and gifts. But exactly how much was spent on the couple was unclear, the officers said.
Provo police Sgt. Matt Siufanua said last week the department has no documentation showing money was ever given to the Tovars.
Former Provo police officer Richard Mack said he was assigned to "take care" of the Tovars. Mack, in his affidavit, said the entire department was "emotionally involved in this case" because the murder victim was the aunt of then Chief Swen Nielsen, but Mack denied any wrongdoing involving the Tovars.
"I will say emphatically that we were not paying Epifanio and his wife for testimony," he told The Tribune last week. "In a way, we were trying to make sure they were protected. They were major witnesses in a murder trial, a capital case. ... We wanted to make sure they were comfortable and they didn't leave town."
Regardless of the validity of the defense's claims, Brunker said their filings came almost two years after a court deadline had lapsed.
In affidavits recently secured by Carter's defense team, one juror from the 1985 trial said the new information regarding the Tovars was a "big red flag," and another said it "would have affected my view of the case."
Brunker said he did not know what information the defense provided those jurors, more than 26 years after the fact, but said he doubts the revelations, if true, would have impacted the verdict.
Brunker noted the Tovars did not recant their testimonies in the new affidavits, and that even if they received benefits from the department, the couple's court testimony matched statements they made to police before any benefits would have been doled out. Meanwhile, Carter himself admitted to police that he had shared details of the crime with the Tovars.
Carter's original death sentence was reversed by the Utah Supreme Court in 1989, but a jury in 1992 again sentenced him to death.
That sentence has been upheld despite a state court appeal and years of litigation in the federal system.
Carter's attorneys have asked the Utah Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court to stay any further proceedings until the state court can hear the new evidence.