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PROVO — Attorneys for an Orem man serving up to life in prison for murdering his wife have called for a new trial, leveling serious allegations that investigators and prosecutors manipulated evidence, altered reports and misled jurors.
They also cite a recent flip-flop by a medical examiner who is no longer classifying Heidy Truman's death as a homicide.
In the motion filed Friday, attorneys echoed Conrad Truman's insistence during his trial and at his sentencing that he did not murder his 25-year-old wife, but that she in fact shot herself. Woven into the request for a new trial are accusations of police misconduct and misrepresentation by prosecutors as they presented the case to jurors last year.
The motion claims evidence was ignored, dimensions and setup of the crime scene were misrepresented in court and to a medical examiner, and that a financial motive for the shooting was unfounded.
"Ignoring this reality and truth be damned, officers altered police reports, prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and called-off witnesses who would not support their theory, and then elected to present evidence of a financial motive that they knew did not exist," Truman's new attorneys, Mark Moffat and Ann Taliaferro, wrote in the motion.
Heidy Truman was shot once in the head in the couple's Orem home Sept. 30, 2012. While Conrad Truman insists he heard a popping noise that night before rushing down the hallway to see his wife collapse from a self-inflicted gunshot, her family has long insisted she was a tragic victim of domestic violence.
"It just cannot be emphasized strongly enough: the prosecution team misled everyone to believe that Conrad Truman shot his wife. The true evidence exposes an unfortunate reality, something which Conrad himself did not want to believe — Heidy Truman shot herself," the motion states.
Deputy Utah County attorney Craig Johnson said Wednesday he was not surprised by the motion for a new trial, which is the first step in any appeals process following a conviction. However, Johnson said he was troubled to see personal attacks and allegations of misconduct in the filing.
"This is an adversarial process by nature," Johnson said. "(Truman) has a right to zealous representation and that's what he's getting. … Anytime you come out and say someone has been unethical, has blatantly lied and deceived the judge, jurors, etc., I think that crosses the line. But they're doing what they think is in the best interest of their client."
In an affidavit filed Friday, deputy medical examiner Edward Leis noted that in the days following Heidy Truman's death he had ruled that the nature of her death was undetermined. However, 10 months later he amended the autopsy to classify the shooting death a homicide following a lengthy presentation by police and prosecutors two days before charges were filed against Conrad Truman.
That presentation, Leis said, detailed the couple's finances and diagrammed the crime scene. But after reviewing gunshot residue evidence and the couple's finances and visiting the Truman home, Leis amended the autopsy report and death certificate yet again, once more listing the manner of death as "undetermined."
"I can no longer state with medical or scientific certainty which individual fired the shot on Sept. 30, 2012," Leis wrote in the court affidavit. "Based upon my consideration of the new and corrected information herein referenced, I can no longer rule out the possibility that Heidy Truman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head."
Johnson responded that the medical examiner's report is a professional opinion and is not essential for prosecution or conviction. In fact, Johnson noted, jurors were specifically instructed at trial not to give added consideration to the medical examiner's findings.
"It's not like they went in there and said, 'Well, the M.E. said it happened, so it must have happened,' and left a half hour later," Johnson said of the jury. "They really worked through the evidence, they listened to the statements of Conrad Truman, and unfortunately for him, his statements are what doomed him. The contradictions of what he said and matching that with the physical evidence, it just wasn't possible."
Following his wife's death, police said Truman reported at different times that his wife had shot herself accidentally, proffered reasons why she may have killed herself, or said that she had been shot by an intruder or a stray bullet from outside. Police and paramedics testified at trial that the Orem man was angry and irrational when they arrived at the home, threatening to kill them if they didn't save her life.
Moffat and Taliaferro, however, say Truman was traumatized, confused and hysterical when unsympathetic officers pressed him in the moments after the shooting. They insist Truman's explanation from the beginning has been that his wife took her own life.
Truman was found guilty by a jury following a three-week trial last October and is currently serving 15 years to life in prison for murder with a consecutive one-to-15-year sentence for obstructing justice.
In the motion, Truman's attorneys argue that gunshot residue, specifically on Heidy Truman's right hand between her forefinger and thumb, is characteristic of someone having fired a gun. The residue was tested by a lab at the defense team's request, something they claim prosecutors refused to do.
However, Johnson contends that both prosecutors and Truman's original defense team had discussed testing the gunshot residue and determined that the process is often unreliable and inconclusive and therefore wasn't necessary for either side.
"If that was an obvious thing that should have been tested by Orem (police) and would have shown who definitively shot the gun and would have exonerated his client, Conrad Truman, then I'm very confident that's one of the first things (defense attorney Ron Yengich) would have done," Johnson said.
Moffat and Taliaferro have requested an evidentiary hearing in support of the motion. The decision rests with 4th District Judge Samuel D. McVey.
Janet Wagner, Heidy Truman's mother, shared her support Wednesday for the prosecutors who tried the case.
"My family supports the investigators and prosecution team 100 percent," Wagner said in a brief statement. "However, the final answer to this motion will be determined by Judge McVey."