CEDAR CITY, Utah (AP) -- A judge has reduced the capital homicide charge against 17-year-old Sean Graham in the slaying of a group home counselor to first-degree felony murder.
The ruling Monday by 5th District Court Judge G. Michael Westfall means Graham, if convicted of the lesser charge, will not face a potential death penalty. First-degree felony murder carries a potential sentence of five years to life in prison, with the parole board determining the length of the sentence.
Graham of Rockville, Md., and Jesse Simmons, then 17, of Wilmington, Del., were charged in the March 8 slaying of Anson Arnett, 31, at the Maximum Life Skills Academy. Authorities said Anson was hit on the head with a baseball bat and stuffed into a closet.
Simmons agreed earlier to plead guilty to first-degree felony murder. The plea was to be entered Nov. 23. Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said he did not know whether Monday's ruling will affect the plea agreement.
He also had not decided whether to appeal Westfall's ruling.
Westfall agreed with defense attorneys that testimony in the preliminary hearing testimony did not indicate that Graham intended to kill Arnett.
He cited testimony that indicated Graham only wanted to incapacitate the counselor and escape.
According to the testimony, Graham was overheard asking Simmons, "Why didn't you knock him out the first time?"
Westfall said the prosecution's claim that Graham's statement could be interpreted as "Why didn't you kill him?" was a stretch.
Westfall also said the choice of weapon did not clearly indicate intent to kill because a baseball bat is not an inherently dangerous weapon.
"How can I infer intent from the use of a baseball bat?" he asked Garrett.
"From the result ... It killed him," Garrett responded.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)