Judge Allows Suspect in Slaying of Utah Couple to Remain Free

Judge Allows Suspect in Slaying of Utah Couple to Remain Free

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- A Rio judge has refused to order a 20-year-old handyman accused of murdering a Utah couple jailed pending trial.

Judge Maria Angelica Guedes denied a prosecution request that Jociel Conceicao dos Santos be jailed until he could be tried for the Nov. 30 murder of Todd Staheli, 39, and his wife Michelle, 36.

"The judge found that Jociel is a first time offender, with a fixed address, who has always appeared at hearings and she still doesn't believe that the prosecution has presented enough evidence to hold him," a press officer for the court said.

She added that the judge accepted a defense request that dos Santos undergo sanity tests.

At Monday's hearing, dos Santos told the judge he was innocent.

Dos Santos had confessed to the killings after he was first arrested April 1. But he later recanted the confession, and a judge released him without charges, citing a lack of physical evidence.

Initial DNA tests failed to link dos Santos to the crime but further tests on clothing turned up traces of blood belonging to both victims.

The Spanish Fork couple were bludgeoned to death in their home in an exclusive Rio de Janeiro neighborhood last year. The couple had been only three months in Brazil, and police found no immediate leads until dos Santo's arrest for allegedly trying to break into another home in the condominium complex where the Stahelis lived.

In his confession, dos Santos said he had killed Todd Staheli first, hitting his victim in the head with a crowbar. Then he also hit Michelle Staheli with the same tool when he realized she was awake. She died in a hospital four days later.

Dos Santos later recanted his confession and has since offered six different versions of the crime.

Last week, a judge ordered dos Santos' imprisonment on attempted-robbery charges unrelated to the Staheli murder, but an appeals judge ordered his release, considering that the charges minor.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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