Teenager's Murder Conviction is Overturned

Teenager's Murder Conviction is Overturned

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A teenager convicted of stabbing his friend to death during a sleepover has been granted a new trial by the Utah Supreme Court.

Two years ago, 16-year-old Brookes Colby Shumway became the Utah State Prison's youngest inmate after being tried as an adult and convicted of fatally stabbing a friend 39 times.

On Friday, the Utah Supreme Court overturned Shumway's first-degree felony murder conviction, saying jurors were given the wrong instruction for considering the lesser crime of manslaughter.

The high court also unanimously reversed Shumway's conviction for second-degree felony evidence tampering and dismissed the charge.

The justices said there was insufficient evidence that Shumway disposed of one of the two knives used to stab 14-year-old Christopher Ray during a sleepover at the victim's Sandy-area home Jan. 23, 2000.

Shumway, now 18, will be released from prison to the custody of the Salt Lake County Jail, where he will await a second homicide trial.

"It was a thoughtful and good decision," said defense attorney Linda Jones, who argued Shumway's case before the Utah Supreme Court in March.

State prosecutors conceded 3rd District Judge Roger Livingston had erroneously instructed jurors by ordering them to find the evidence failed to establish murder before they could consider the elements of manslaughter.

"We recognize there was a problem with the instruction, but we felt it was harmless Ûbecause there was little evidence to support a manslaughter convictionÝ," said Fred Voros, criminal division chief for the Utah Attorney General's Office.

At trial, prosecutors claimed Shumway ambushed Ray as he slept on a living room couch. The defense argued Shumway stabbed Ray in self-defense.

Shumway told police that after a night of playing a violent video game, Ray became angry at losing and began poking Shumway's hands with a kitchen knife. Shumway claimed he and Ray wrestled for up to 30 minutes before Ray died.

But prosecutors noted that Ray's mother, his 18-year-old sister and two dogs slept through the prolonged attack in the small mobile home.

The defense claims Shumway asserted self-defense from the beginning. When Shumway awakened the victim's mother, he told her, "Chris tried to stab me and I stabbed him back."

The high court said the conflicting interpretations of the evidence "underline the importance of a correct jury instruction."

If allowed to consider manslaughter, jurors might have concluded Shumway acted in self-defense or under the influence of "extreme emotional disturbance," the justices said.

Regarding Shumway's evidence tampering conviction, an autopsy showed Ray was stabbed by two different knives, but police found only a large butcher knife.

Prosecutors argued Shumway must have destroyed or concealed the second, smaller knife.

But the high court said there were other reasonable explanations for why the second knife was not found. Furthermore, detectives did not learn of the possibility of a second knife until the day after the slaying, yet they did not return to the home for another search.

"Only speculation supports the conviction," the justices wrote.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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