Homeless man Arrested for Aggravated Murder of an Officer in Utah

A 40 year old homeless Utah man was arrested for aggravated murder of an officer after he shot and killed a policeman attempting to apprehend him.

Attempt to arrest a fugitive

29 year old Joseph Shinners, a three year veteran officer with the Provo Police Department was killed earlier this month while attempting to apprehend a fugitive in Orem, Utah. Shinners was responding to a location alert regarding a fugitive who had a history of making violent threats towards police officers. When Shinners arrived and attempted to apprehend the suspect he was shot and later died at Utah Valley Hospital. The 40 year old suspect who is not being named at this time was arrested for aggravated murder of an officer.

Aggravated murder of an officer

Utah Code 76-5-202 states regarding aggravated murder of an officer that: “criminal homicide constitutes aggravated murder [of an officer] . . if the victim is or has been a peace officer, law enforcement officer, executive officer, prosecuting officer, jailer, prison official, firefighter, judge or other court official, juror, probation officer, or parole officer, and the victim is either on duty or the homicide is based on, is caused by, or is related to that official position, and the actor knew, or reasonably should have known, that the victim holds or has held that official position”.

Criminal penalties

That section goes on to note that “If a notice of intent to seek the death penalty has been files, aggravated murder is a capital felony. If a notice of intent to seek the death penalty has not been filed, aggravated murder is a noncapital first degree felony”. A noncapital first degree felony is punishable by 25 years to life in prison. For more information on crimes against police officers and how they differ from crimes against regular citizens, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Aggravated Murder Charges for Utah Teacher Who Shot Husband’s Girlfriend

A Utah teacher has been arrested for aggravated murder after she shot and killed the girlfriend of her ex-husband while the teacher’s three year old twins watched in horror.

In the presence of children

Photo by: RONg

32 year old Chelsea Cook, a teacher at Skyridge High School in the Alpine Utah district was arrested after she opened fire on 26 year old Lisa Williams who was dating Cook’s ex-husband. Cook came to her ex-husband’s apartment in Midvale, Utah to bring medicine to one of her three year old twins who were in the care of their father and his girlfriend, Williams. After delivering the medicine, Cook let herself inside the apartment uninvited where Williams was decorating the Christmas tree with the two toddlers. Cook locked herself in the bathroom and refused to leave. When she finally emerged, she went to her jacket and retrieved a firearm. She then pointed the weapon at Williams and opened fire. Following the shooting, Cook went to her two children who were present during the traumatizing incident while her ex-husband attempted to give first aid to Williams. Cook then made her way again to her jacket and was physically restrained by her ex-husband until police and emergency crews arrived. Cook was then arrested while Williams was transported to the hospital where she later died from her injuries.

Aggravated murder

Cook was arrested for aggravated murder, which carries more severe penalties than murder. Murder, which is described as “. . . [intentionally or knowingly] causing the death of another person is a first-degree felony, punishable by life in prison and a $10,000 fine. Aggravated murder is also done intentionally or knowingly but with other factors that make the crime more serious. Some of these factors or elements may include when the homicide:

• took place in a jail or prison;
• occurred during a robbery, rape, sexual abuse, arson, kidnapping, or other serious offense;
• was committed by someone who was already convicted of murder;
• was committed by someone with a criminal history of aggravated assault, kidnapping, rape, felony discharge of a firearm, or other crime listed in Utah Code 76-5-202 (1)(j);
• prevented a witness from testifying or otherwise “distrupt[ed] or hinder[ed] any lawful governmental function.

In the case of Cook, she opened fire on Williams while her ex-husband and two small children were also in the room. This “. . . knowingly created a great risk of death to a person other than the victim and the actor” as stated in Utah Code 76-5-202 which enhances her crime of murder aggravated murder. Aggravated murder is punishable as a first degree felony with life in prison or a capitol felony if prosecutors seek the death penalty.

Premeditated or crime of passion

It is unknown if Cook planned on killing Williams or if it was a crime of passion after seeing her children and ex with another woman. She was carrying a weapon, but so are many residents throughout Utah. Did she in fact go to the apartment with the plan to kill Williams or did she completely lose it after arriving to see someone else living her life, happily making Christmas ornaments with her children. A crime of passion or heat of passion occurs when someone feels immense feelings such as rage and reacts violently. Many times crimes of passion occur between romantic partners especially when someone feels betrayed perhaps by a cheating partner. Cook and her ex-husband were divorced, but even strong feelings as a mother feeling the loss of her children to another woman could have pushed her over the edge, leading her to brutally remove the person standing in the way of her children. Crimes of passion and other crimes that occur when the individual is not in the right mind do not go unpunished, especially in the state of Utah. They can however, lead toward leniency regarding punishments which for Cook, could mean the difference between life and death.

The Eighth Amendment and the Death Penalty

If the people are protected against cruel and unusual punishments, where does the death penalty come in?

Eighth Amendment

Photo by: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” No one convicted of a crime should face punishments that are considered severe or unfair. Being sentenced to death seems to be the grimmest and harshest sentence possible though, so why is it permissible under the protection of the Eighth Amendment?

Death penalty

In the early 1970’s the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Within a few short years however, during the case of Gregg V. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled by a wide majority that the death penalty under new statutes were no longer unconstitutional. Under the new guidelines, the trials of someone facing the death penalty must be a two part, with the first determining guilt or innocence and if found guilty, the second step to decide prison or death.

Is Utah pro-death penalty?

Photo by: Humphrey King

The state of Utah wasted no time in welcoming the death penalty back. In fact, Utah was one of the first states to begin perform an execution after the nationwide overhaul of capital punishment. Utah is also the only state to still have the questionable firing squad as an option of carrying out the death penalty when unable to “obtain the substance or substances necessary to conduct an execution by lethal intravenous injection” according to Utah Code 77-18-5.5. Many death penalty activists in Utah are currently fighting to cease the death penalty in Utah on the next legislative session. While many claim it is truly unconstitutional to take the life of another person under law, others admit the death penalty with the cost of the continuous appeals is just too expensive to support.

Capital felonies

Until Utah lawmakers decide to abolish the death penalty, Utah Code 76-3-206 states: “A person who has pled guilty to or been convicted of a capital felony [such as murder] shall be sentenced in accordance with this section [and if the person] was 18 years of age or older at the time the offense was committed, the sentence shall be:

(i) An indeterminate prison term of not less than 25 years and that may be for life; or
(ii) On or after April 27, 1992, life in prison without parole”;
(iii) [or the ultimate punishment,]  Death”.