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Attorneys representing death row inmate Floyd Eugene Maestas on Tuesday asked the Utah Supreme Court to overrule a judge who ordered defense attorneys not to present evidence of Maestas' low IQ and family troubles at trial.
At his 2008 trial for stomping a 72-year-old woman to death in September 2004, Maestas asked his attorneys not to present evidence about his sub-average IQ and incest within his family. Third District Court Judge Paul Maughan ordered Maestas' defense team to follow his wishes.
But public defender Joan Watt argued before the high court Tuesday that Maestas is mentally retarded, making him exempt from the death penalty, and that he suffers from low-impulse control. That information should have been presented to jurors, she said.
Maestas did not understand his trial court proceedings, even though he responded to the judge's questions in court, Watt argued. Justice Thomas Lee asked why defense attorneys did not request that Maughan ask open-ended rather than yes or no questions.
"He does things to front to pretend he's smarter than he is," Watt told the justices of Maestas, adding that he failed first grade and didn't move on to the next grade level until he was 9 years old.
Watt said Maughan also misapplied Utah's mental retardation exemption statute, passed into law in 2003, by disregarding research from experts about Maestas' low IQ.
But Assistant Attorney General Karen Klucznik said in court that Maestas was within his rights to waive the mitigation evidence and therefore not acting irrationally when he made that decision.
"He was willing to take a death penalty instead of putting mitigation evidence on," she told the justices.
Chief Justice Christine Durham questioned how it was rational of Maestas to ask that mitigating evidence not be presented. Klucznik argued that deciding what evidence to present in a case is left up to the defendant to some degree.
Maestas, 55, received the death penalty following his 2008 trial for the slaying of Donna Lou Bott. He and two other men broke into Bott's home, intent on robbing her. The co-defendants testified at trial that Maestas ran directly to the sleeping woman's bedroom, where he beat, strangled, stabbed and stomped her to death. The robbers left with only a handful of change.
Maestas' attorneys unsuccessfully filed a motion for a new trial in 2008, where they argued their client received an unfair trial because of juror misconduct. Following that motion, Maestas' case proceeded to the Utah Supreme Court. The justices will issue their opinion on the case at a later date.