State v. Hamilton

CourtSupreme Court of Utah
Citation827 P.2d 232
Docket NumberNo. 890456,890456
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. George Wesley HAMILTON, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date29 January 1992

Page 232

827 P.2d 232
STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee,
George Wesley HAMILTON, Defendant and Appellant.
No. 890456.
Supreme Court of Utah.
Jan. 29, 1992.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 24, 1992.

Page 233

R. Paul Van Dam, Charlene Barlow, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellee.

G. Fred Metos, Salt Lake City, for defendant and appellant.


Defendant George Wesley Hamilton appeals his conviction of second degree murder, a first degree felony. Hamilton raises three claims of error: (i) insufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction; (ii) failure to instruct the jury on the nature and effect of fingerprint evidence; and (iii) improper admission of evidence concerning other violent acts by Hamilton. With regard to Hamilton's first two claims, we find no error. As to the third claim, we need not reach the admissibility of the violent act evidence because, even assuming error, it was harmless. We therefore affirm Hamilton's conviction.

In reviewing a jury verdict, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Gardner, 789 P.2d 273, 285 (Utah 1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1090, 110 S.Ct. 1837, 108 L.Ed.2d 965

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(1990); State v. McClain, 706 P.2d 603, 605 (Utah 1985). We recite the facts accordingly. Rollins v. Petersen, 813 P.2d 1156, 1158 (Utah 1991); State v. Verde, 770 P.2d 116, 117 (Utah 1989).

Sharon L. Sant was a student at Southern Utah State College in Cedar City, Utah, during the summer of 1985. Around the end of July 1985, Sant told a friend, Cheryl Cox, that she intended to return to her hometown of Fillmore, Utah, to attend the funeral services of some high school friends. On August 1, after failing to obtain other transportation, Sant started to hitchhike from Cedar City to Fillmore. One of Sant's co-workers, Royce Barton, saw her at approximately 11:45 a.m. at a northbound on-ramp of Interstate 15 in Cedar City. She never arrived in Fillmore. Cox reported Sant missing on August 6, 1985.

Beginning in March 1985, defendant George Wesley Hamilton worked for Arnold Foch Parkinson on a ranch Parkinson leased north of Paragonah, Utah. Paragonah is twenty-two miles north of Cedar City on I-15, between Cedar City and Fillmore. Hamilton's co-worker on the ranch was Robert Bott. In early July, Hamilton stopped working full time for Parkinson. He then split his time between cutting firewood in the Paragonah area and working on the ranch. He continued to alternate between ranch work and woodcutting into early 1986.

On the morning of August 1, 1985, the owner of the ranch could not find Hamilton, Bott, or Parkinson on the ranch. Later that afternoon, while shopping at the M & D Market in Parowan, Utah, five miles north of Paragonah along I-15, Jacklyn Smith saw Hamilton and Bott in the store's parking lot. She saw Bott and a woman later identified as Sant seated in the cab of Hamilton's flatbed truck. She also saw Hamilton leave the store with a twelve-can pack of Budweiser beer, put the beer in the back of the truck, and then get into the driver's side of the truck cab. Hamilton, Bott, and Sant then drove away.

On August 16, 1985, a Utah Department of Transportation employee working near a frontage road and a northbound on-ramp of I-15 at Cove Fort, Utah, noticed some curious marks leading away from the road into some scrub trees. Upon investigation, he and two co-workers determined that they were drag marks. They followed the marks and discovered a small mound of dirt that had "sticks and an oily residue coming up through the dirt [to the] top of the mound." After the workers noticed what appeared to be a dried intestine on top of the mound, they left the area undisturbed and contacted police.

Officers of the Millard County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. The officers opened the mound and found the unclothed, mutilated remains of a female. Both hands, feet, and breasts, the head, and the left arm had been removed. The left arm was in the grave between the legs of the torso. The body had been cut open from the breast bone to the pubic bone and the uterus and other sexual organs apparently had been removed. Sometime later, officers assisted by a canine team discovered breast tissue under a bush some thirty-nine feet from the grave. The deputy who discovered the tissue testified that there was "grease or a skid mark" about two feet long that led under the bush. "It was like the rolling of the dirt as if the item had struck the ground and skidded up underneath the bush." The other missing body parts were never recovered.

About seventy-five feet from the grave site, officers located a wood-splitting maul. The officers testified that the maul had been used in excavating the shallow grave. The maul carried traces of blood at the base of the metal head, on the wooden portion at the top of the head, and on the bottom of the handle. Investigators were unable to determine the blood type because there was an insufficient quantity of blood. The officers were likewise unable to recover fingerprints from the handle of the maul. Testimony at trial indicated that Ronald Frank Johnson, owner of a Parowan service station at which Hamilton was a regular customer, had seen a similar maul in Hamilton's truck in July 1985.

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Johnson further testified that in November 1985, he had noticed that a similar, but newer, maul had replaced the one he had seen in July.

In addition to the maul, officers recovered a considerable amount of physical evidence from the crime scene, including blood stains and hair recovered from gravel at the edge of the roadway. The hair was found to be similar to samples of Sant's hair taken from her hair brush and clothing. Similar hair was also found in Hamilton's truck. In addition, the two-hundred-foot drag trail, which began at the road and ended at the grave, was spotted in numerous places with type O-positive human blood. Both Sant and Hamilton had this blood type. Specifically, officers recovered blood samples from stained soil and tree and sagebrush branches along the drag trail. Police testified that one area of the drag trail, which they called the "mutilation point," was particularly "covered with blood." Near this point, officers found a piece of cardboard with blood on it and a blood-stained beer bottle in the bushes. There were two bloody fingerprints on the bottle--one on the outside and one just inside the neck. The fingerprint on the outside was identified as Hamilton's. Although the other fingerprint had a whorl similar to one of Hamilton's, it did not have enough detail to positively identify it as his. Evidence showed that the beer bottle was manufactured between September and December of 1979. It would have been shipped to the bottler within thirty days of manufacture and filled and shipped immediately to the distributor.

Officers also collected five Budweiser cans near the drag trail. They lifted four latent fingerprints from two of the cans. Two of Hamilton's fingerprints were found on one can. Another of Hamilton's prints and a print of a man identified as Michael Perry were found on the second can. Evidence showed that three of the five beer cans were filled on July 2, 1985, and possibly were packaged together. The can with two of Hamilton's prints was one of these three. A fourth can, which had no identifiable prints, was packaged on July 1, 1985. The fifth can, which had the fingerprints of Hamilton and Perry, was packaged August 5, 1985. A Budweiser representative testified that Budweiser cans packed in a twelve-pack purchased from the M & D Market in Parowan on August 1st were packaged on July 1 and 2, 1985.

Dr. Edwin Sweeney, acting state medical examiner, examined the remains of the body. Through comparison of X-ray records, Dr. Sweeney identified the remains as Sant's. He testified that the marks on the body were consistent with the removal of the head, hands, feet, and one arm with a blunt instrument, such as the wood-splitting maul found at the scene. He also testified that the incision in the torso was made with a sharp instrument such as a knife and that the incisions around the breasts were made with the same type of instrument. Although Dr. Sweeney testified that the presence of blood and hair samples that appeared "somewhat squashed or stuck" in the gravel near the road implied that the victim had suffered a blow to the head, without the head he was unable to determine the cause of death or whether the incisions and mutilation of the body occurred before or after death. The decomposition of the body, however, was consistent with Sant's dying on August 1st.

On January 29, 1986, an anonymous informant telephoned police and said that Hamilton might have participated in the Sant murder. After several weeks of investigation, both Hamilton and Bott were arrested and charged with first degree murder and aggravated kidnapping. The prosecutor granted Bott immunity, and he was never tried. Hamilton, on the other hand, was eventually tried on an amended information which charged second degree murder, aggravated sexual assault, and forcible sexual abuse. Hamilton was convicted of second degree murder; the aggravated sexual assault and sexual abuse charges were dismissed. Because of jury misconduct, the trial court set aside the conviction and ordered a new trial on the second degree murder charge. After the second trial, the new jury panel found

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Hamilton guilty of second degree murder. Hamilton appeals his conviction from the second trial.

Hamilton makes three claims of error: first, that there was insufficient evidence that he participated in the murder of Sharon Sant; second, that the trial court erred when it refused to instruct the jury that before it could consider the fingerprint evidence against Hamilton, it must determine that the fingerprints at the scene were left at the time of the murder; and...

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