Judge reconsiders Logan woman’s murder conviction

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — A Utah judge is considering whether a woman convicted of murdering her employer 17 years ago should be exonerated. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Debra Brown’s case was handed over to 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda on Monday after a six-day evidentiary hearing. DiReda set no timetable for making a ruling, which many consider a test of a new “factual innocence” law. “This court is poised to write a new chapter in the annals of Utah history,” said Reed, who fought to uphold the conviction. Brown is the first Utah inmate to have her conviction reconsidered under the 2008 law, which allows convicted criminals to challenge the facts of their cases when new evidence is discovered, even if there is no new DNA evidence. Brown, 53, was convicted in 1995 of the November 1993 shooting death of her longtime friend and employer, Lael Brown, in Logan. The two are not related. Attorneys from the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center contend Debra Brown was convicted on circumstantial evidence. During the hearing, defense attorneys presented new photographs, documents and testimony, and focused on the Logan Police Department’s “slipshod” investigation. Debra Brown’s attorneys argued police failed to investigate likely suspects, mishandled the crime scene and tailored the time of Lael Brown’s death to fit a time when Debra Brown had no alibi. “There is nothing left of the circumstantial case against Deb Brown,” defense attorney Andrew Sullivan said during closing arguments on Monday. “Each fact in the circumstantial case against her is false.” Reed declined to defend the initial homicide investigation but contends that it didn’t necessarily result in a wrongful conviction. “Certainly there are things that could have, would have and should have been done better,” he said. “But that does not mean” Debra Brown did not commit the crime. After the close of the hearing Monday, Debra Brown’s family said they were feeling optimistic. “Nothing has changed after 17 years. It all boils down to one thing: She’s innocent,” said her son, Josh Whitney.

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