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Utah man convicted of murder in stabbing at party

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A photo taken by Kaleb Yazzie on his 22nd birthday, five days before the Midvale man was stabbed to death near 560 N. 40 E. in Salt Lake City. Courtesy photo

By Marissa Lang

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jun 14 2013 03:50PM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:33PM

It took a jury little more than an hour and a half Friday to convict Adam Karr of murdering a 22-year-old man outside a Capitol Hill house party.

The jury hadn’t been asked to determine if Karr had stabbed Kaleb Yazzie to death on July 31, 2012. There was no doubt about that. They were asked to determine why.

Was it murder, a crime executed to satisfy anger and revenge? Or was it self-defense, an act of desperation and fear?

No one expected it would take so little time to decide.

Both the victim’s and defendant’s families knew the quick turn-around could mean only one thing: There had been little debate among the five men and three women of the jury. The jurors were sure — one way or the other.

Karr, 27, was found guilty of murder and obstruction of justice in the 2012 slaying of Yazzie. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced in August.

As the verdict was read, neither family spoke. Sobs from both sides mingled in the tense stillness of the 3rd District courtroom.

For the Yazzie family, the verdict came as a welcome end to the nightmarish year they have endured. They felt vindicated, relieved and — after months of court dates and disappointments — a bit of peace.

"All I heard was the word ‘guilty,’ and after that it was like all the panic, all the fear I was feeling just stopped," said the victim’s sister Jachell Yazzie, 21, who burst into tears as the verdict was read. "I’m overly relieved."

It was not so for the Karr family, who seemed confident throughout the four-day trial that evidence had shown Adam Karr acted in self defense on that night nearly one year ago.

Adam Karr’s parents, three sisters and two brothers declined to comment as they left the courtroom together Friday. They held on to one another, as mother and daughters let out deep, rattling cries.

Yazzie’s family said they understand what it feels like to lose a son and a brother.

"I’m thankful for the verdict, but I’m sad, too, because it’s such a tragedy," said William Yazzie, the victim’s father. "I feel really bad for [Karr’s] parents. They’re losing a son, too. Though they’ll get to see theirs again. We never will."

In closing arguments to the jury Friday, prosecutor Paul Parker said Yazzie was acting inappropriately, but posed no real threat to the Karrs or anyone at the party.

"You can’t kill an invited guest because they get out of hand," Parker said. "He did not deserve to die. "

Parker said Yazzie, who had knocked a baseball cap off of one of the Karr brothers’ heads and refused to leave when asked, was disrespecting Adam Karr and his home. For this, Parker argued, Karr wanted to exact revenge, and that’s why he killed Yazzie.

But defense attorney Richard Mauro argued the killing was "reasonable" and "necessary" given Yazzie’s behavior that night, which he described as threatening and frightening.

Yazzie, the defense argued, had told the Karr brothers that he wanted to hurt them, that he was a knife fighter, had gang connections and knew mixed martial arts. He said the fear Adam Karr felt was very real.

The defendant’s only witness — Adam Karr’s younger brother, Ammon — added a key piece of evidence to this defense: He 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.

"You have the right to protect your dwelling, your house and any being in that habitation. You’re allowed to use force — even deadly force. That’s what someone is entitled to do in their house," Mauro said. "Adam Karr followed the law."

The defense’s argument hinges on a defense of habitation law passed by the Utah Legislature in the 1980s. According to that law, a person has 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.

But it wasn’t enough to sway the jury.

Prosecutors countered that Yazzie was on his way out and too drunk to effectively resist. His blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, according to an autopsy.

"The only evidence that we have is that Kaleb was leaving," Parker said. "He wasn’t leaving very well. He was rude and obnoxious, but he was leaving."

Parker added that for the defendant’s action to be "reasonable" or "necessary," killing would have had to be the only option. He listed other "reasonable" alternatives, such as closing the door, calling police and enlisting others to kick Yazzie out.

"He didn’t have to leave him butchered and bleeding to death," the victim’s mother Cynthia Lansing said."They didn’t even give him a chance. I can’t believe a human being could do that to another human being."

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 3 years probation.

mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: marissa_jae

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