June 25, 2013
The Utah Supreme Court ruled today that Wade Garrett Maughan should stand trial for obstruction of justice after he confessed to helping his friend commit murder, but refused to testify against his friend, despite an immunity agreement. The justices ordered the magistrate to bind Maughan over on one second-degree felony count of obstruction of justice.
More than two decades after Brad Perry was murdered at a Brigham City convenience store, tests discovered Glenn Griffin’s DNA on a dollar bill recovered from the crime scene. Maughan told police in 2005 that he had been close friends with Griffin in 1984 and had held the victim’s legs while Griffin hit him and stabbed him with a screwdriver. Prosecutors charged both Griffin and Maughan with capital murder. Wanting to use Maughan’s eyewitness testimony against Griffin, prosecutors granted Maughan “use immunity,” which prevented them from using Maughan’s testimony against him in his own subsequent trial. Maughan nevertheless refused to testify at Griffin’s trial.
Even without Maughan’s testimony, Griffin was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Maughan was eventually acquitted for his role in the murder, but not before prosecutors charged him with obstruction of justice for refusing to testify against Griffin. However, the magistrate refused to bind Maughan over for trial on the obstruction charge and the Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the magistrate’s decision.
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Ballard filed an appeal and argued that the magistrate had improperly denied prosecutors the opportunity to make their case to a jury. Ballard argued the magistrate could refuse to order a defendant to stand trial only if the evidence “falls to a level of inconsistency or incredibility that no reasonable jury could accept it.” But a reasonable juror hearing the evidence could find that Maughan refused to testify because he wanted to obstruct his friend’s murder prosecution.
In today’s ruling, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee agreed with the A.G.’s Office that the standard for a bind over is lenient: “To bind a defendant over for trial, the prosecution is required only to ‘produce believable evidence of all the elements of the crime charged.’” Justice Lee added that a jury may ultimately agree with Maughan on the facts. “But in our view the magistrate and the court of appeals jumped the gun in rendering their own assessment of these issues.”