ST. GEORGE – The defense in a 2010 double murder case is seeking to have the possibility of the death penalty removed in anticipation of entering a final motion on the matter within a month’s time.
Lingering contractual issues regarding lawyer appointments for the accused were also addressed in 5th District Court Wednesday and appear to be on the road to being resolved, allowing the case to move forward.
Battle of motions
Earlier this year, the Washington County Attorney’s Office filed its intent to seek the death penalty against Brandon Perry Smith for his alleged role in the December 2010 death of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen. Smith has been charged with first-degree felony aggravated murder for Christensen’s death, which the prosecution described in court documents as “a heinous killing.”
Christensen’s murder was one of two that occurred at the St. George home of Paul Ashton on Dec. 11, 2010. The other victim was 27-year-old Brandie Jerden, whom Ashton pleaded guilty to killing in September 2013. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
Gary Pendleton, Smith’s attorney, has asked Judge Michael Westfall, who now presides over the case, to overturn a previous ruling by now-retired Judge James Shumate that allowed the possibility of the death penalty to be pursued. Pendleton has argued that his client’s case does not meet the criteria allowing for such a penalty.
Deputy Washington County Attorney Brian Filter told the court he has filed the prosecution’s response to the defense’s motion for the death penalty option to be removed. Now his office is waiting on the defense’s rebuttal, which the judge ordered to be filed in the next 30 days.
The attorneys anticipate arguing their positions before Westfall sometime after Pendleton’s rebuttal to the prosecution is filed.
Payment and contracts
A lingering issue Westfall wanted cleared up before the case continued related to the Indigent Defense Fund. The fund is a state tax-based fund that pays for the public defenders of indigent clients, including those in potential capital offense cases. As public defenders are typically appointed by the court, there had been a question of Pendleton’s eligibility to be paid by the fund, as he had been retained to defend Smith.
Pendleton said Shumate had found him qualified to receive payment from the fund, though somewhere along the line official paperwork hadn’t been finalized.
“I don’t want to go down to trial and have a problem,” Westfall said, adding he didn’t want there to be an issue of the accused saying he didn’t believe his attorney was qualified because the court hadn’t gone with the usual appointment process. To this end, Westfall asked Smith directly if he was satisfied with having Pendleton as his attorney.
“I am,” Smith said.
So far, the fund has been paying Pendleton and Salt Lake City-based co-attorney Mary Corporon for services rendered – they just hadn’t yet signed contracts solidifying the arrangement. It was something that was making fund administrators nervous, Westfall said.
Pendleton told the judge that Corporon currently had the contract and will sign it, and he will be signing it soon, as well.
Westfall gave the defense 10 days to finalize the contract and 20 days after that to file the rebuttal concerning the death penalty.
Smith’s case stems from the Dec. 11, 2010, slayings of Christensen and Jerden and the attempted murder of James Fiske. The victims were at the home of Paul Ashton, helping Jerden and her boyfriend move out, when the incident occurred.
According to court documents, Ashton, who had been cooperating with police as an informant, feared he had been exposed and asked Smith to supply him with a gun for self-defense. Smith went to Ashton’s home and allegedly supplied him with a gun. An argument started between Jerden and Ashton that resulted in Ashton shooting Jerden and Fiske. Jerden was killed and Fiske was wounded but managed to get away and call police.
Christensen had locked herself in the back of the home and was found by Smith. He is accused of beating the woman with a blunt object, strangling her and slitting her throat in a possible attempt to keep her from testifying in court, according to court documents.
The defense has argued that Smith’s actions were, to an extent, manipulated by Ashton.
- Defendant in 2010 double-murder case gains additional counsel
- News short: Death penalty sought in 2010 double-murder case
- Suspect’s plea in 2010 murder case delayed
- Ashton sentenced to life in prison for 2010 murder
- Ashton pleads guilty in 2010 murder case
- State Responds to Motion to Keep Press from Hearings in Double Homicide Case
- Murder victims identified, two men arrested
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