Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Not guilty verdict at Strate murder trial

Posted By on September 7, 2011, 8:56 PM

The jury in the Steve Strate murder trial in Orem returned a verdict of not guilty this evening at 8.30 p.m. --- 

Almost two years ago, Strate shot his brother-in-law Marvin Sidwell to death in Sidwell's basement as Sidwell attacked Strate with a metal stool. 

Utah County prosecutors painted the killing as an act of violence perpetrated by a man fed up by Sidwell's erratic and menacing behavior. Sidwell was high on meth at the time of his death and, according to police reports on the shooting, also had mental-health issues.

While prosecutors characterized Sidwell as a man who was all "bark and no bite," Strate told the jury that they were "pals" and that he had no intention of hurting him when he went to confront his brother-in-law about his threatening behavior to a neighbor and Strate's wife, Linda, Sidwell's sister.

That Utah County would prosecute Strate for what his supporters regarded as clear-cut self-defense  raised issues that a recent CW news story, Gun Shy, examined, relating to a double standard over how police officers who use deadly force to defend themselves are rarely prosecuted while citizens who find themselves in similar positions typically end up in court charged with murder.  

Strate now faces rebuilding a once-lucrative crane-leasing business that, post-murder charge, evaporated as his clients turned away from him, along with the considerable expense of hiring one of Salt Lake City's most renowned defense attorneys, Ron Yengich, to argue his case in court. Arguably, the case boiled down to Yengich raising the drumming stool Strate was faced with and asking the jury, "Would you be afraid?"

The verdict also raises a concern voiced by some Utah County defense attorneys that the Utah County D.A.s' office has persistently prosecuted cases that should never have been brought to court. This has resulted not only in allegedly an unusually high number of not-guilty verdicts, but also raised questions about the office's internal culture. Those questions, in part, focused on the relationship between line prosecutors and police agencies, with the latter seen by county D.A. critics as having an upper hand in deciding which cases should go forward.

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