Judge Vacates Death Sentence of Elroy Tillman

Judge Vacates Death Sentence of Elroy Tillman

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A judge vacated the death sentence of Elroy Tillman on Friday, ruling that the defense for Utah's oldest and longest-serving death-row inmate was denied access to important evidence during his 1983 murder trial.

Third District Judge Leslie Lewis's ruling came after several days of testimony in December about Tillman's case.

After the testimony, Lewis ruled that important evidence was withheld from the defense, but she said she would issue a written ruling later.

Tillman, now 67, was sentenced to death for the slaying of Mark Schoenfeld, who was bludgeoned with the blunt end of an ax and then set ablaze inside his Sugar House home in May 1982.

Last year, just weeks before Tillman was scheduled to be executed, his lawyers received 50 previously undisclosed pages from police interviews with Carla Sagers, a girlfriend of Tillman's who had said she accompanied him when he killed Schoenfeld.

The lie-detector tests indicated Sagers lied about her involvement in Schoenfeld's murder, a former police sergeant testified Monday. Nevertheless, prosecutors gave Sagers total immunity from prosecution for providing key evidence against him.

The discovery of the transcripts prompted Tillman's attorneys to ask for a new trial, claiming that their client's due process rights had been violated.

At the end of last December's testimony, Lewis was left to decide whether the nondisclosure resulted in erroneous testimony being presented to the jury at Tillman's trial.

Lewis' ruling provides for a new sentencing hearing for Tillman, but it was not immediately clear Friday when or if a new sentencing would occur.

Tillman's attorney, Loni De Land, said Friday's order was a relief. He called Tillman at the Utah State Prison to tell him the news.

"He let out a huge sigh of relief and said that he was thrilled with the decision," De Land said.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker said he had not fully reviewed Lewis' decision, and said that he and other state attorneys would decide in coming days whether to appeal the ruling.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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