SALT LAKE CITY — A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit from a Utah man who claims a prosecutor purposefully gave wrong measurements to get him convicted of murder in his wife's death.
Conrad Truman was later exonerated in the 2012 shooting death of Heidy Truman, 25.
A lower federal court found the prosecutor is immune from the civil rights suit because Truman's claims don't amount to a violation of constitutional rights. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver disagreed in an opinion released June 4.
"Mr. Truman's allegations paint a picture of arbitrary executive action that shocks the conscience," the court opinion states.
Truman had also sued Orem police officers, but the appeals court affirmed the dismissal of those claims, based on procedural issues.
The Trumans had been home watching television and drinking whiskey on Sept. 30, 2012, before Heidy Truman died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Police responded to a frantic 911 call from Truman, who leveled threats against arriving officers and first responders if they didn't save his wife.
Truman insisted that he heard a popping noise that night before turning to see his wife collapse from a self-inflicted gunshot.
A medical examiner testified that Heidy Truman couldn't have traveled 12 feet away from the spot in their home where her husband had seen her after the first shot. But Truman alleges police miscalculated the dimensions of their home, in part by recording inches as feet. In reality, she moved about 9 inches.
Truman maintained his innocence throughout the first trial in 2014 and at his sentencing. A judge granted a new trial based on the faulty measurements and he was acquitted of murder after spending four years behind bars.
Truman alleges then-prosecutor Craig Johnson knew based on a visit to the Orem home, crime scene reconstruction and photos that the dimensions weren't right. After Truman's attorneys pointed out the inaccurate measurements, the medical examiner later changed her manner of death from homicide to "undetermined."
"Mr. Johnson is out of the state on vacation and has not reviewed the 10th Circuit opinion yet," Johnson said in response to a request for comment. "He trusts his legal team is handling everything with the utmost competence and professionalism."
Truman's attorney, Mark Moffat, noted it's rare for judges to reverse a grant of immunity for a law enforcer.
"But because of what happened in this case, the 10th Circuit said that the lawsuit against the prosecutor in this case can proceed, and that's significant," Moffat said.
Dick Baldwin, another lawyer of Truman's focused on the appeal, agreed.
"The language in the opinion — at least from my experience with these kinds of cases — is pretty strong language," Baldwin said. "The court came out swinging, saying that this conduct shocked the conscience. That sort of language is pretty charged for a court."
No new hearings have been scheduled.