Monday, May 9, 2011

After Being Found Factually Innocent Of Murder, Debra Brown Released From Utah State Prison After 17 Years; Wants To Join The LDS Church

Sometimes people are led to the Gospel through unusual and arduous paths. In the case of Debra Brown, her path took her through 17 years imprisonment in Utah State Prison -- for a crime she has now been found factually innocent. On Monday May 9th, 2011, Debra Brown walked out a free woman, and one of her first goals is to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and go to the Draper Temple she's been seeing from the prison.

Brown, who found the LDS faith during her time in prison, said her short-term goals are simple. "I'm gonna go fishing. I'm gonna get baptized, and a year from that I can go through the temple." She said views of the LDS temple in Draper from prison served as an ensign to her and that was the place she really wanted to go once released. Brown and members of her family also wore T-shirts printed with an LDS scriptures relating to time church founder Joseph Smith spent as a prisoner in a Missouri jail. KSL news video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of

The key is that a judge found her factually innocent of murder upon appeal. 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda determined that Brown, who has been imprisoned since 1995 when she was convicted of murder in connection with the 1993 shooting of Lael Brown, was innocent following an extensive hearing on evidence in the case. The ruling was the first-ever case in Utah under a 2008 state statute that allows convictions to be challenged based on new facts rather than new DNA evidence. Judge DiReda made his ruling on May 2nd, signed the order releasing Brown from the Utah State Prison on May 9th and also signed an order to have Brown's conviction expunged from her record. In addition, he ordered the state to pay Brown $570,780 in financial assistance. The first payment was ordered to be $114,156. Initially, the Attorney General's office announced its intention to appeal, which would have delayed payment, but then Attorney General Mark Shurtleff personally intervened and said there would be no appeal. So the payments will go forward.

Because her conviction has been expunged, she can be approved for membership in the LDS Church without the approval of the First Presidency. Had she merely been pardoned rather than been completely exonerated, she would still require First Presidency approval of her membership, according to the Church Handbook of Instructions Vol. 1.

The Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune also published detailed stories of Debra Brown's release; the Tribune has also embedded two videos, one showing the moment of release, and another containing a press conference.

Brief Summary of the Case: On Saturday November 6th, 1993, Debra Brown's friend and employer, 75-year-old Lael Brown, was shot to death at his Logan home. Debra Brown was the one who discovered the crime. Lael Brown owned rental units around the valley, and Debra Brown cleaned them and performed maintenance work. Because Lael Brown had entrusted Debra Brown with a key to his home and because there were no signs of forced entry, police focused their investigation on her. They also claimed that she had forged more than $3,500 in checks and had a motive to kill him. In addition, that Saturday morning was the only time in which Debra Brown could supply no alibi. Armed with that evidence, the state arrested her in September 1994 and tried her for aggravated murder in 1995; she was convicted and sentenced for up to life.

But throughout it all, Debra Brown adamantly maintained her innocence. In 2002, the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project took up her case; attorneys from the center worked her case for free. But until 2008, convictions could only be challenged with new DNA evidence. When the law was changed to allow a challenge based on any new evidence, the appeal went forward. And so on May 2nd, 2011, the judge found by clear and convincing evidence that Lael Brown was alive on Saturday afternoon, which meant that Debra Brown could not have killed Lael on Saturday morning, as the state argued at trial. Judge DiReda said that it was most likely that Brown actually died sometime between 9 P.M. Saturday night and 3 A.M. Sunday morning. The judge further found that Debra Brown could not have killed Lael Brown at any other time. The judge’s conclusion was based on the testimony of friends of the slain Logan man, who said they had seen him the day before he was found dead.

No comments: