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Court declines appeal from man who murdered Utah plumber

Published March 11, 2014 5:43 pm

Courts • He says he did not undertstand impact of guilty plea.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has turned down an appeal from a Utah man who has battled for years to revoke his guilty plea in the aggravated murder of his girlfriend's ex-husband.

Craig Duncan Nicholls, 50, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, says he did not understand the ramifications of a plea deal he signed in 2003 because of mental illness and ineffective counsel; he also alleged misconduct by a state judge. Both the Utah Supreme Court and a Utah federal judge found the claims groundless.

Nicholls lured plumber Michael John Boudrero, his girlfriend's former husband, to a vacant home in North Logan in July 2003 on the pretext that he needed plumbing fixed. Nicholls then shot him multiple times.

Boudrero, 47, was found in the basement of the home on July 11, 2003.

Prosecutors say Nicholls and Tamara Rhinehart hatched the murder plot to collect life insurance benefits.

Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in the case in exchange for Nicholls' plea. Rhinehart, now 55, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and received a sentence of life without parole.

The appellate court said it was clear from a transcript of a court hearing that Nicholls indicated he was freely entering the plea deal and understood implications of doing so. At the time, Nicholls said he had "no mental reservations" regarding his plea and was not under the influence of any drugs, medication or intoxicants.

But in his self-written appeal to the 10th Circuit, Nicholls said he was incapacitated after being denied his depression medication and felt coerced to plead guilty by his counsel's promises of "medications, an appeal, [his] family and even Prisneyland " — the latter apparently a reference to prison.

The court said lower rulings correctly found that depression is not a sufficient basis for a claim of incapacity and that Nicholls understood the nature of the plea deal.

"No reasonable jurist would debate the district court's rejection of Mr. Nicholls's claim that his plea was not knowing or voluntary," it said.

The court also found "no shortcoming in the trial court's conduct of the plea hearing" or any problems with the work of Nicholls' attorneys, which "enabled Mr. Nicholls to escape the death penalty."

brooke@sltrib.com