Utah County Attorney announces he will no longer seek the death penalty

Sep 9, 2021, 12:14 PM

PROVO, Utah — Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announced he will no longer seek the death penalty, saying it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and doesn’t curb crime.

“All of what we’ve spent, and more would be worth it if it would prevent another senseless murder from occurring, but it doesn’t and it won’t,” said Leavitt in a video statement released by his office. “Pretending that the death penalty will somehow curb crime is simply a lie. The answer to preventing these types of horrible crimes is in education and prevention before they occur. No family wants to hear, ‘My child is dead and that man got a long sentence.’ What they want to hear is, ‘My child was never killed.’

That decision did not sit well with Amanda Davis and Bill Powell — family members of teens Riley Powell and Breezy Otteson.

The teens were brutally killed in December 2017, and their bodies were dumped 100 feet down an empty mine shaft after being bound and stabbed.

In 2019, Leavitt announced he was seeking the death penalty against accused killer Jarrod Baum. But that is now off the table.

Davis and Powell said that’s what they were told when they met with Leavitt Wednesday morning at his office before the announcement.

“We feel he’s cowardly,” Davis told KSL TV’s Dan Rascon. “To take it and pull the rug out from underneath us four months before trial it’s disheartening.”

“It’s just not right,” said Powell, who called it nothing more than politically driven and not the voice of the people in Utah County.

Michael Shinners is also very upset. He’s the brother of Provo police officer Joe Shinners, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in January 2019.

Michael Shinners, who is a police sergeant in Massachusetts, said the death penalty was being used as part of a plea deal to get accused killer Matt Hoover to plead guilty for murder so the family would not have to endure a trial. That hearing is set for the end of the month.

Now he fears the case may now go to trial.

“It shows a lack of empathy and compassion I believe toward my family. I’m very set back. I’m very upset and angry,” Shinners said. “It’s negligent and reckless in regards to the case and I’ll be calling for the immediate resignation of Mr. Leavitt if this case is affected in any way. I don’t believe that someone’s personal believes should play a role.”

In response to the Shinners case, Leavitt told KSL in a statement, “The death penalty is ‘The Big Lie.’ We can no longer deceive ourselves into thinking that it delivers justice or compensates victims.”

He later said, “My heart goes out to these families. I’ve been weighing these issues for years. These families are living with the pain of great loss hoping that the death penalty will bring solace. I know that this is a difficult announcement for them today. I respect that,” he said.

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Utah County Attorney announces he will no longer seek the death penalty