Floyd Maestas, Utah death row inmate, dies of natural causes at 63

Floyd Maestas

Floyd Maestas, who was sentenced to die for stomping a woman to death during a 2004 robbery in Salt Lake City, instead died Sunday of natural causes. He was 63.

The Utah Department of Corrections announced Maestas’ death in a news release Sunday morning. The department did not provide further details, though one of Maestas' lawyers, Samuel P. Newton, on Twitter implied the cause was cancer.

Maestas' passing leaves eight inmates on Utah’s death row. None has an execution date, nor did Maestas.

Maestas beat, choked and stomped on 75-year-old Donna Lou Bott in what prosecutors described as the culmination of a four-decade criminal career that began with a stolen piggy bank and escalated to a pattern of attacking older women. The same Salt Lake County jury that convicted Maestas of the Bott murder also found him guilty of aggravated burglary for robbing a woman in her mid-80s the same night Bott died.

It took 39 months for Maestas to reach trial, and the 10 years since his conviction took him only a few steps toward the death chamber. A major factor in both delays was Maestas’ intellect.

There were questions of whether Maestas understood the criminal cases against him and could make decisions about his defense. Before he went to trial, Maestas’ attorneys wanted testing to see if he met Utah’s definition for mental retardation. If so, that would have made him ineligible for the death penalty.

Maestas refused to leave his Utah State Prison cell to meet with psychologists and other evaluators, according to records in his appeal. The nine women and three men on the jury convicted him and a week later were asked to decide if Maestas should be executed.

At that phase, Maestas refused to let his lawyers call Maestas’ mother and other witnesses who could testify about his violent childhood and lack of impulse control — factors the jury would have been allowed to consider.

Maestas addressed jurors for about two minutes during the sentencing phase. He proclaimed his innocence.

"I feel bad about Ms. Bott," he said. "[But] from the beginning, I said I wasn't guilty. Today, again, I say I didn't kill Ms. Bott."

As for not calling witnesses who could have helped him, Maestas explained: "I didn't want my family to get involved.”

Besides their arguments about Maestas’ competency, both his trial and appellate attorneys argued he wasn’t the one who killed Bott. They have questioned the DNA and fingerprint evidence used against him.

Two other men — William Hugh Irish and Rodney Roy Renzo — entered Bott’s home with Maestas that night. They testified against Maestas at trial, but Irish has since recanted, insisting detectives threatened to say he was the one who assaulted Bott unless he testified against Maestas. In an affidavit submitted in 2015 with Maestas’ appeal, Irish said that he now wishes to give “no statement at all.”

Prosecutors and appellate attorneys working for the state have pointed to evidence at the scene that night and Maestas’ criminal history. The Utah Supreme Court upheld Maestas’ conviction and sentence in 2012, but another appeal has been crawling through Utah’s courts.

Floyd Maestas

Courtesy | Utah Department of Corrections Utah death row inmate, Floyd E. Maestas.

Floyd Eugene Maestas was born Nov. 20, 1955, at his family’s home in a disadvantaged part of Durango, Colo., that the locals called Mexican Flats. He was the fifth of seven children born to Frances Adelina Montano Maestas and Joe “Junior” Maestas. Junior Maestas also had what a report from an investigator working for Maestas’ appellant team described as “several older” children from a previous relationship.

That 2015 report painted the Maestas home as filled with alcohol, violence and tragedy. The father was described as a drunk who would hit his wife and children. One of Floyd Maestas’ older full sisters, Martha, died the day after she was born in 1951.

Another sister, Charlotte, who was 6½ years older than Floyd, was suspected of molesting Floyd, the report said. Then, in 1963, Charlotte was 14 and pregnant when a 19-year-old boyfriend stabbed her to death with a letter opener during an argument. Floyd, who was 7, witnessed the killing. The Maestases were poor, and a neighbor donated a burial dress for Charlotte.

The parents separated in 1966, and Frances Maestas took her remaining children to Salt Lake City. Floyd Maestas’ first known police record came in November of that year, when police cited him and his brother Eugene for petty larceny. The boys stole a piggy bank filled with $20 worth of pennies from a home. The report noted Floyd Maestas had already missed 22 days of school that year.

Theft and public drunkenness persisted throughout Maestas’ youth, according to his juvenile record. Then, in 1974, Maestas was among a group of young men suspected of breaking into the home of 64-year-old Donna Jensen, beating and raping her.

It couldn’t be proved who committed the assault, but there was enough evidence for a burglary charge that sent Maestas to the Utah State Prison for the first time. He was paroled in 1976.

On the evening of Oct. 13, 1976, Maestas broke into the home of 79-year-old Alinda McClean. He beat her badly, according to court records, and used a shattered lightbulb to gouge McClean’s right eye from its socket. Then he stole McClean’s television and a few other items. She was able to describe Maestas, and police tracked him down and found him with the TV.

In August 1989, he entered Leone Nelson’s home, attacked her and stole some goods. In all, Maestas was suspected of at least a half-dozen attacks against women before killing Bott, yet a combination of charging decisions by prosecutors and plea negotiations prevented Maestas from being convicted of a violent crime in any of them. Instead, he was convicted of theft or burglary in those cases. He was paroled Sept. 7, 2004.

Three weeks later, Maestas was in a car with Irish and Renzo, both 19, when they decided they needed money. Maestas somehow picked out Bott’s home near 1100 South and 1200 West in Salt Lake City.

Maestas, his two accomplices would later say, threatened Bott with a knife while demanding her purse. He then began striking her with his fists, according to charging documents.

He also choked Bott, though an an autopsy determined she died from blunt force injuries. Maestas stomped on her so hard he ruptured her aorta. Police found her body in her home three days later after neighbors called to say they had not seen Bott in awhile.

After killing Bott, Maestas and his accomplices went to another home about four blocks away and robbed the woman living there. The robbers left, and Maestas’ car ran out of gas on the freeway. They abandoned it, and a police officer later found the car. Inside was a wallet belonging to the older robbery victim.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City -Public defender Denise Porter delivers closing statements during the capitol murder trail of Floyd Maestas, for the 2004 murder of Donna Lou Bott, in Judge Paul Maughan's courtroom at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City Friday, February 1, 2008.

Irish and Renzo eventually pleaded guilty to only felony burglary charges for their roles that night in exchange for testifying against Maestas. Evidence of Maestas’ brutality toward women was presented at his sentencing hearing. Bott’s granddaughter and niece testified, too, about losing the last member of the family’s older generation.

That 2015 report had only a partial list of Maestas’ remaining family. They included his mother, who the report said visited her son twice a month in prison; a brother, Manuel Maestas; and a daughter, Elisha Maestas. No updated list of survivors was available Sunday.