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”.

Results of Ballot Initiatives that May Surprise You

The ballots have been cast and the voters have decided; here are some initiatives from around the nation with results that may surprise you.

Photo by: Kelly Minars

Photo by: Kelly Minars

Legalization of marijuana

Some feel the legalization of marijuana is an issue that should’ve been resolved on a national level long ago. As it stands however, marijuana laws differ by state.

Marijuana Initiatives

Photo by: Chuck Coker

• Before Tuesday’s polls, medical marijuana was legal in 18 states; that number is currently 22. Now residents of Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota who are suffering from medical conditions such as epilepsy, glaucoma, and chronic pain will now be able to use medical marijuana that includes the psychoactive ingredient THC to help treat their symptoms.

• For those who wish to have the plant for leisure use: California, Nevada, and Massachusetts voters have joined with those in other states including Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington (and Washington D.C.) by voting in majority of initiatives that legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Maine could join that list, but currently is 50/50 while they wait for the 2% that haven’t reported yet. 52% of Arizona voters chose to stick with medical marijuana only while Utah didn’t even have marijuana on the ballot; the beehive state currently allows limited medical marijuana only along with 14 other states.

Death penalty

Capital punishment continues to be a sensitive issue. Many believe that those offenders who are found guilty of the most heinous of crimes should be removed from existence while others don’t believe taking a life is ever okay. Three states had initiatives on the ballot regarding the death penalty:

Photo by: Global Panorama

Photo by: Global Panorama

• California voters chose to not only keep the death penalty, but to hasten the time it takes for executions to be carried out.

• Residents in Oklahoma chose to protect the death penalty by amending the state constitution and giving lawmakers the option to choose other methods of execution if needed.

• The people of Nebraska chose to bring back the death penalty after their state legislature voted to abolish it just last year. Nebraska rejoins 30 other states that currently support the death penalty.

• The death penalty was not on the ballot for Utah where it is legal and usually carried out by lethal injection. The firing squad is another option however, with this method being used last in June of 2010 for the capital punishment of Ronnie Gardner.

Gun laws

With the countless incidents around the country where innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of crazed individuals wielding guns, some states chose to add initiatives to the ballots which toughen laws regarding gun control.

Photo by: frankieleon

Photo by: frankieleon

• 63% of California residents voted “yes” on proposition 63 which would require background checks on individuals purchasing any ammo and outlaw the possession of large capacity magazines.

• Residents in Washington State voted to allow judges the right to limit a person’s access to firearms temporarily if a family member or roommate of said person states they are displaying signs of behavioral or mental instability which may lead to a greater chance of them hurting someone including themselves.

• By a very slim margin, Nevada voters chose to require background checks for all sales of firearms.

• Maine was the only state with initiatives regarding gun laws on the ballot that chose not to toughen those laws. 52% of Maine voters chose to allow sales of guns between two parties, even if neither one is a licensed dealer.

• Utah is one of the states with more lenient gun laws and it will likely stay that way a while as nothing was included on the 2016 ballot. Currently Utah does not require background checks for gun purchases, has Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws, as well as allows open carry without a permit as long as firearms are not loaded.

Other noteworthy initiatives

With hundreds of initiatives on the ballots nationwide, there were a few that caught the attention of residents and media nationwide:

Ballot Initiatives

Photo by: michael_swan

• Minimum wage increase. Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington all had initiatives to increase the minimum wage with Arizona and Washington also including paid sick leave for employees. South Dakota tried to decrease the minimum wage for employees under the age of 18 years old but that initiative was highly rejected.

• Assisted suicide. Colorado joined California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington by voting “yes” to allow terminally ill patients of sound mind the right to end their lives by taking lethal drugs prescribed to them by a physician.

• Condoms for porn stars. 54% of California residents voted “no” to requiring actors in porn films to wear condoms during sex scenes. Perhaps the other parts to Proposition 60 that required film producers to obtain a health license and pay for numerous medical necessities of their paid actors is what drove voters to not pass the initiative.

For more information on the initiatives and poll results for the state of Utah, go to electionresults.utah.gov .