A Provo man who admitted to strangling his aunt in 2010 did not have his rights violated and will not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, the Utah Supreme Court ruled last week.
Damien Candland, now 25, pleaded guilty in January 2011 to aggravated murder for the slaying of 45-year-old Amy Jo Candland.
As part of a plea deal, the man agreed to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A day after his July 2011 sentencing, however, Candland wrote the judge a letter asking to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming it was the result of anxiety, stress and pressure from his trial attorneys to accept the deal.
Candland’s appeal attorney Aaron Dodd later argued before the Supreme Court that the man was confused and did not enter the guilty plea "knowingly and voluntarily." The Supreme Court justices wrote that Candland received adequate notice of his appeal rights and that he told the sentencing judge that he had read and understood the plea agreement documents.
On Feb. 21, 2010, Candland strangled his aunt with an electrical cord and left her body near a trash bin in Hobble Creek Canyon, where it was discovered later that day.
According to evidence at a September preliminary hearing, footprints near the body matched Damien Candland’s, and DNA testing indicated that Amy Candland’s blood was on the man’s T-shirt.
The victim’s DNA was found beneath her nephew’s fingernails. And prosecutors also introduced evidence that indicated that Damien Candland had nonconsensual sex with his aunt on the day she died.
Prosecutors alleged Damien Candland — who had been living at his aunt’s Provo home — may have killed her because of petty disputes about vacuuming, washing dishes and other household chores. The Supreme Court justices cited as a motivation for the murder the fact that Amy Jo Candland had testified against her nephew in a previous theft case.
In exchange for Candland’s guilty plea for the homicide, prosecutors dismissed charges of rape and obstruction of justice.
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