Utah Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism Thursday about a defense attorney's unusual claim that prosecutors discriminated against his client, who is serving a life prison sentence for shooting a woman to death in a botched beauty salon robbery.
"It seems to me you've got a pretty high burden to show a pattern of discrimination," said Justice Christine Durham. "You just haven't begun to meet that."
Miguel Mateos-Martinez was 19 when he shot and killed 24-year-old Faviola Hernandez at her Glendale hair salon in front of her two young siblings in 2007. Extradited from Mexico a year after the killing, he was convicted on aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated assault charges and sentenced to life without parole.
Attorney Sam Newton asked the justices to reconsider Martinez's sentence, arguing the aggravated murder charge was "arbitrary and capricious." He pointed to eight similar cases brought to the legal defenders' office over the previous nine years, saying Martinez was one of only two people who faced the more serious charge.
That list in itself wasn't enough for the Supreme Court, however. The justices asked why Newton hadn't included in his briefing details of the other cases.
"Without the facts, we don't know if [the cases] are similarly situated," Durham said.
But Netwon countered that they were all murder-robbery cases, and that should be should be enough similarity.
"It's difficult for defendants to get into the minds of prosecutors," he said. "The burden should shift to the state to show why the cases are different."
Newton also argued the victim's family made "inflammatory" statements during sentencing, calling Martinez "a monster," "street rat" and a "waste of life," according to court documents. The justices pointed out that Martinez was sentenced by a judge, presumably able to filter out inappropriate statements better than a jury, but Newton argued against that characterization.
"We can't just assume judges aren't human too," he said.
Chief Justice Matthew Durrant seemed to consider his point.
"What [justification] is there for that distinction?" he asked Assistant Attorney General Marian Decker. She answered that the question was moot in the Martinez case because the trial court judge made his sentencing decision primarily because Martinez fled and seemed to have little remorse.
Meanwhile, Hernandez's mother, who attended the hearing, said the new arguments bring back the pain of losing her daughter.
"My kids are never going to be the sameâ¦he's never going to pay for it," she said. "If he had the balls to do it, he should have the balls to stay there."
The justices took the case under consideration. No date was set for a decision.