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Death Sentence Overturned For Inmate Convicted For Shootings 29 Years Ago

A federal judge has overturned the death sentence that was given to inmate Von Lester Taylor, after he was convicted for two Summit County murders that occurred 29 years ago.

In her ruling issued last week, Judge Tena Campbell says Taylor did not get an adequate defense from his public defender, which led to Taylor’s Guilty plea and his sentence to Death Row.

KPCW contacted Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, who expects the Utah Attorney General’s Office will appeal the ruling to Denver’s Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case began shortly before Christmas of 1990.    Taylor and a confederate, Edward Steven Deli, escaped from a halfway house and broke into a family cabin owned by Rolf and Kaye Tiede up Weber Canyon.

When the family returned, prosecutors alleged that Taylor fatally shot 70-year-old Beth Potts, and her daughter, 49-year-old Kaye, and kidnapped the Tiede’s two daughters, Linae and Tricia.

Father Rolf was shot and left for dead, but he survived and got on a snowmobile to summon help.

The two suspects were captured by officers after a vehicle chase.

Taylor was represented by the county’s public defender, Elliott Levine.    In May of 1991, six days before his trial, Taylor pled Guilty to the two homicide charges, in return for dismissal of the lesser charges such as arson, kidnapping and Attempted Murder.

Two weeks later, in a penalty phase hearing, the jury imposed a death sentence.

Meanwhile, Deli was found guilty in a separate trial of second-degree murder.   He is currently serving a life sentence.

Over the years, Taylor has pursued a number of unsuccessful appeals to state courts, including three efforts before the Utah  Supreme Court.   His lawyers argued the evidence showed that the two victims were killed by shots from a .44 Magnum, which Deli carried, not the .38 Special that Taylor carried.

Judge Campbell said that an evidentiary hearing in her court in 2018 met the burden of showing that a juror could determine there was a reasonable doubt that Taylor was responsible for the killings.

The Judge ruled that in 1991, Levine gave “inexcusably uninformed advice” that led Taylor to enter a Guilty plea.

The judge said that Levine did not conduct an investigation into the state’s evidence, did not consult with any experts, and he didn’t visit the scene of the crime.   His girlfriend worked for him as a paralegal on the case, and developed little evidence herself.    And Levine indicated to his client that he thought the state’s case was unassailable.

During the penalty hearing, noted the judge, Levine put on his case in less than a day, with just three witnesses.     One of them was his client in another capital case, named James Holland.

Judge Campbell ruled that Taylor was prejudiced by Levine’s completely unreasonable errors and “deficient representation falling well below the prevailing professional norms.”

County Attorney Olson told KPCW Judge Campbell’s ruling doesn’t release Taylor.   She said the Utah Attorney General’s Office is seeking a stay of the Judge’s order pending the appeal to the 10th Circuit.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.