Murderer avoids death penalty; judge incensed with state doctors who withheld medical records

Steven Crutcher (right)

Murderer avoids death penalty;

judge incensed with state doctors

who withheld medical records


By James Tilson

Staff writer

Apr. 5, 2018


MANTI—Lack of disclosure by doctors at the Utah Department of Corrections (DOC) last week resulted in Sanpete County prosecutors dropping plans to seek the death penalty for an inmate at the Gunnison prison who murdered his cellmate.

 Judge Wallace Lee described the behavior of DOC doctors in both Draper and Gunnison who withheld medical records for Stephen Douglas Crutcher from his defense attorney as “sneaky and deceitful.”

“I’m about as angry about this as anything I’ve seen in my entire legal career,” Lee said. The normally mild-mannered judge said he planned to send a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert asking for an internal investigation into the disclosure procedures at DOC.

The medical records were of central importance to the case, since Crutcher’s defense centered on whether his mental state at the time of the murder had been affected by the medications prescribed by the UDC doctors.

Crutcher pleaded guilty to murder in May 2016, but the remaining issue was what the sentence should be.

The state had asked for the death penalty, and, under Utah law, a defendant has the right to a jury trial as to whether the death penalty should be imposed.

By asserting his mental-state defense, Crutcher and his attorney, Edward Brass, hoped to convince the jury impose a sentence of 25 years to life, thus giving Crutcher the possibility for parole.

However, after attorneys for both defense and prosecution discovered 1,572 pages of Crutcher medical records which were not turned over until after Feb. 14, less than a month before trial, the prosecuting attorneys decided to offer Crutcher a sentence of life without the possibility of parole rather than go forward with the death-penalty hearing.

Crutcher accepted the offer. On Wednesday, March 27, Lee then imposed the sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

As part of the sentencing hearing, Lee allowed Brass to report what had happened.

Brass began by saying he did not think any of the prosecuting attorneys were at fault at all. He said prosecutors had acted ethically and honestly throughout the proceedings. What he called the “troublesome” aspect of the case began after an Oct. 12, 2017, order by Lee for the DOC to turn over “all” medical records pertaining to the defendant while he was in their custody.

According to Brass, on Oct. 16, 2017, the UDC turned over approximately 300 pages of records.

After reviewing those records, Brass requested an interview with DOC medical providers. The providers refused unless they were presented with a court order. Brass went back to the court and got an order.

When Brass was finally able to interview the medical providers, Brass called the providers “very hostile.” However, the providers did give Brass of a list of medications different from the drugs listed in previous disclosures.

Brass went back to the court again to get an order for further disclosure. The court gave that order on Feb. 14. This time, the medical providers turned over 1,572 pages of Crutcher’s medical records that had not been provided before.

Amanda Montague, the DOC\ legal representative, addressed the judge and said, “We apologize to everyone.” She said this “represents a failure on our part,” and “we are sincerely sorry.”

Montague suggested the medical professionals were dealing with conflicting ethical requirements, and they were confused about what was necessary for disclosure. She said she has since spoken to the executive staff and “disabused them of that.”

Lee said, “I accept your explanation, but I still have half a mind to require [Rollin Cook, director of DOC] to appear as well.”

Instead, Lee said in court he was going to send a letter to Gov. Herbert, with a copy to Cook and the wardens of both prisons, requesting an investigation into systemic violations of disclosure requirements in criminal cases.

Like Brass, Lee said he found no ethical wrongdoing by the prosecution team. In fact, Lee said it was their integrity that probably kept this case from a disaster.

Lee further thanked Brass for his “excellent” work in uncovering these violations.