Utah judge won’t overturn verdict for convicted killer
Courts • Adam Karr claims he acted in defense of habitation when victim tried to re-enter his Salt Lake City home.
Published: August 26, 2013 06:47PM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:33PM
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Ammon Karr Courtesy Salt Lake County Jail

More than a year after he killed a 22 year old at a Capitol Hill house party, Adam Karr will be sentenced next week after a judge refused to overturn his murder conviction Monday.

In June, a jury found Karr, 27, guilty of murder and obstruction of justice in the 2012 killing of Kaleb Yazzie, who died of multiple stab wounds after attending a party at Karr’s home.

But Karr’s attorney, Richard Mauro, argued Monday that Karr’s actions were necessary to defend himself, his brother and their home. He told 3rd District Judge James Blanch that although the jury found Karr guilty, he should not have been, according to a defense of habitation law passed by the Utah Legislature in the 1980s.

According to that law, people have the right to defend their home from an intruder by use of lethal force if they perceive the intruder will cause them bodily harm or will commit a crime in their residence.

“What it is meant to do is give homeowners the opportunity to protect their home, and that is just what happened in this case,” Mauro argued Monday. “Had this happened on the sidewalk, the use of deadly force wouldn’t have been reasonable. But it didn’t. It happened in their home, where using deadly force to protect Mr. Karr’s home and brother was perfectly reasonable.”

Mauro argued during the trial that Karr acted out of fear and desperation, that he was afraid of Yazzie because Yazzie had allegedly made threats earlier on the night of July 31, 2012, and claimed to know how to fight and wield a knife.

The defendant’s only witness — Adam Karr’s younger brother, Ammon — said Yazzie had tried to re-enter the house after he had been escorted out and told to leave numerous times. Ammon Karr said a fist fight broke out when he tried to deny Yazzie re-entry.

Prosecutors dismissed this argument saying Karr had been planning to stab Yazzie all night. They pointed to the testimony of several witnesses, who said Karr had told party-goers that he wanted to “shank” someone and carried a knife upstairs even after his friends asked him not to.

Other than knocking baseball caps off people’s heads and acting “obnoxiously,” there was no evidence to show Yazzie had been violent or threatening, prosecutors said. He had no weapons on him when his body was found.

After the judge denied Karr’s request to overturn the jury’s verdict, Mauro has asked the judge to consider sentencing Karr to a lesser one-to-15 year stint in prison — the punishment for the lesser crime of manslaughter — on the basis that Adam Karr thought he was defending his home and his brother when he committed the stabbing, though, legally, he was not covered under the state’s self-defense statute.

The judge refused.

Karr will be sentenced next Tuesday. He faces up to life in prison.

The jury took barely more than an hour to convict Karr of murder in June. It was a conclusive end to a drawn-out process that involved several defendants and witnesses, nearly all of whom were under the influence of alcohol or drugs — or both — at the time of the stabbing.

Ammon Karr, who was also charged in the case, pleaded guilty to an obstruction of justice charge in a plea deal with prosecutors that spared him any prison time in lieu of jail, house arrest and three years probation. He attended Monday’s hearing with his family.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @marissa_jae