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In this Sunday Edition, a discussion of the Debra Brown case with representatives from the Office of the Utah Attorney General and the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center. Also, KSL's Lori Prichard talks about the devastation in Joplin, Missouri. And Utah's First Lady Jeanette Herbert explains her new initiative to help Utah families.
SEGMENT 1: Debra Brown Appeal
Debra Brown was convicted of murder 17 years ago. She was released from prison on May 9 after a judge declared her "factually innocent." On May 26, the Office of the Utah Attorney General announced it would appeal the decision. Patrick Nolan, Assistant Attorney General, and Jensie Anderson, Board President of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project, discuss the case.
Nolan explains that at a January trial, the judge asked the defense team and state attorneys if they were interested in a witness who 17 years ago said on a police "tip sheet" he saw the victim alive the day after he was said to have died. The witness was brought back for a hearing in March.
This case doesn't turn on a single witness it turns on the totality of the case.
Anderson says the additional witness is not what this case hinges on.
"Of course that was very important to the judge, but in the trial in January, we basically set out to prove three things. One, that there was a shoddy police investigation in this case that basically made it impossible to know who did this crime, and we proved that. Second, that all the circumstantial evidence that was used to convict Deb Brown in the first instance was simply unfounded, that there were other people with access, that there were other people with motive, that there were other people with opportunity, and we proved that. And the third thing that we aimed to prove, that Deb Brown did not do this crime, and that witness and several other pieces of evidence convinced the judge that Debra Brown simply could not have done this crime," she explains. "This case doesn't turn on a single witness it turns on the totality of the case."
Debra Brown was found legally guilty in 1995.
"At the trial of the case in 1995, twelve jurors found Debra Brown guilty of aggravated murder beyond a reasonable doubt. A motion for new trial was made by her defense lawyers and the trial judge denied that motion. The case was then appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, and the Utah Supreme Court affirmed that conviction," explains Nolan. "So that means the jury, the trial judge and five members of the Utah Supreme Court all concluded that Debra Brown was guilty."
So that means the jury, the trial judge and five members of the Utah Supreme Court all concluded that Debra Brown was guilty.
A new law passed three years ago allows for a determination of factual innocence or that the person did not commit the crime for which they were convicted.
"The petitioner had to prove in this new trial that Debra Brown did not commit this crime," says Nolan. "The judge found after six days of trial in January that she had not proved that she did not commit the crime, and yet the judge seized upon this one witness, Dell Hall, and decided that based upon the testimony which he gave at the one day hearing in March, that if the victim was still alive on Saturday afternoon in November of 1993, that Debra Brown did not kill him at the time the State claimed he was killed back in 1993. And if she didn't kill him Saturday morning because Dell Hall claims he saw him Saturday afternoon, therefore she didn't kill him at all."
The Office of the Utah Attorney General does not agree with the judge's decision.
The Utah Attorney General has changed his mind about whether to appeal the decision, initially saying he would, then saying he wouldn't and then finally on May 26 announcing he would.
Nolan says Mark Shurtleff had not had a chance to read the opinion, was reacting from his hospital bed and was not fully informed when he sent out his initial response. Shurtleff has met with the State's attorneys and various county attorneys to discuss why the case should be heard by the Utah Supreme Court.
"We are deeply disappointed in the Attorney General's decision to appeal this case," says Anderson. She says they have the right to appeal but it is the wrong decision.
SEGMENT 2: Devastation in Joplin
The destruction starts on one side of town and goes clear to the other side of town, and nothing in between remains. It's all gone. It's devastated, flattened.
On May 22 a monster tornado with 200 mile per hour winds cut a path of destruction through Joplin, Missouri, killing scores of people and obliterating much of the city. KSL's Lori Prichard went back to her hometown to cover the devastation.
She says the pictures do not show the enormity of the destruction.
"The destruction starts on one side of town and goes clear to the other side of town, and nothing in between remains. It's all gone. It's devastated, flattened," Prichard describes.
"How people survived is unimaginable to me," she says. "You walk around and there is debris littered everywhere, and everything could have been projectile, the tree branches, glass, steel wrapped around trees."
SEGMENT 3: Uplift Utah Families Initiative
Utah's First Lady Jeanette Herbert announced the launch of an initiative intended to help parents acquire the skills they need to raise responsible, successful children on May 24.
It's a parenting program that we are endorsing and supporting, it's called Strengthening Families.
"It's a parenting program that we are endorsing and supporting, it's called Strengthening Families," explains Herbert.
The program has been around for several years.
"There are three main components: bonding with your children, setting clear boundaries and limitations, and monitoring their behavior. And it has ten lessons that you can access on a DVD," she says. "The thing that is different about this program is that it is interactive, so you can do it with your children."
Herbert says, the program has seen a lot of success around the country and around the world.
The program gets at the basics and is interactive for the whole family through various activities, she explains. Uplift Utah Families includes an evening performance that will be performed by students during Red Ribbon Week. This is not a state program, it is a private initiative Herbert is championing.