According to several anonymous sources in local law enforcement, late last year the Salt Lake County District Attorney requested a state grand jury to hear evidence and testimony on the Danielle Willard fatal shooting by West Valley undercover officers but was turned down by the judges who vet such applications.
District Attorney Sim Gill and his deputy chief Blake Nakamura made a presentation to the panel of five judges regarding two WVC officers who, during an alleged drug bust, were involved in the shooting death of 21-year-old Willard, while she was alone in her car.
One of the judges, several sources informed City Weekly, told the D.A. they would not grant an application to empanel a grand jury - which can comprise of between 7 and 23 citizens - because they viewed the case as "political," and, as such, not appropriate for a grand jury.
Sim Gill declined to comment and would not confirm or deny that such a request had been made.
Grand juries are secret and even for someone involved in one to acknowledge it has taken place, or any business to do with a grand jury, is potentially a criminal offense.Grand juries hear evidence from witnesses in secret and then decide whether to hand down an indictment. No indictment, no publicity.
A grand jury has to decide that there is a clear and convincing evidence in order for a suspect to be indicted.
A recent story in the Salt Lake Tribune highlighted that DA Gill and other Utah prosecutors are pushing legislation to introduce an appeal process to the judges' decision-making.
Gill told the Tribune, "I can certainly tell you requests have been made and requests have been denied and the rationale [by the panel of judges] is all over the place."
The bill, which seeks both more specificity to what kind of cases prosecutors can ask for grand juries, and an option to turn to the Court of Appeals, if the decision is no, might alleviate concern in some quarters that the five judges who decide whether a case warrants a grand jury or not, lack oversight, since their yay or nays are final.
Utah is the only state where, one criminal attorney says, "you have to kiss a judge's derriere to get a grand jury."
The other side of the coin, as defense attorneys noted in the Trib piece, was that if, as in the rest of the country, prosecutors got to empanel grand juries themselves for typically complex cases involving corruption or fraud, then there is a concern that this could lead to a lack of accountability for prosecutors, who bypass a preliminary hearing before a judge in open court prior to an indictment being handed down.Photo via Facebook