Attempted aggravated murder or manslaughter — it’s a difference of either 25 years to life or 1-15 years in the Utah State Prison. Those are the stakes for a Logan woman whose May 14 trial has been postponed while the local court studies a new state statute addressing assisted suicide.
Teresa Clark, 38, accused of providing a mix of prescription drugs for a friend who wanted to die of suicide, was expected to stand trial beginning May 14. However, defense attorney Mike McGinnis believes the new statute could apply to Clark’s case.
McGinnis filed a motion in 1st District Court asking Judge Thomas Willmore to rescind the ruling in which he found probable cause to believe she committed the crime of attempted aggravated murder in order to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.
“As defense counsel, I am not advocating that Ms. Clark be charged and bound over on any charges,” McGinnis stated in his motion. “However, based on the evidence that was presented to the court, at preliminary hearing, the court may find that the allegations meet the elements of the revised manslaughter statute.”
On an otherwise quiet Sunday morning in June 2017, Logan police and medical personnel were called to a hotel room where a 54-year-old woman was found unresponsive, with her two small dogs wrapped in towels beside her, deceased.
Logan police say they found a white, powdery substance, empty pill bottles, a pill crusher and other items on a desk in the room, leading them to believe the woman had made an attempt at suicide.
Detectives testified at a preliminary hearing in October 2017 that they obtained a search warrant allowing them to search the hotel room for more evidence. They reportedly found legal documents in the room that led them to 36-year-old Teresa Clark, the same seemingly concerned woman who had called 911 for her friend.
The woman survived that suicide attempt and on her release from, Logan Regional Hospital, she contacted Clark, insistent on making a second attempt to end her life. Only this time she was reportedly working in tandem with police.
When Clark was subsequently charged with attempted aggravated murder, that was the only law on the books that applied.
However, during the last legislative session, lawmakers passed House Bill 86, adding language to the existing statute that identified assisted suicide as a form of manslaughter, a second-degree felony punishable by 1 to 15 years.
It isn’t a clear win for McGinnis and Clark because while the state code notes the new wording itself is effective May 8, 2018, there is nothing written into the statute that says it may be applied retroactively to existing cases.
Cache County prosecutors argue the change doesn’t apply to Clark.
“Because there is no language in the statute expressly declaring it to be retroactive and the alleged crimes in this case occurred before the effective date of the amendment to the manslaughter statute, the statute does not apply to the defendant,” prosecutor Dane Murray stated.
Judge Willmore has asked for additional written argument on that topic before he will make a ruling, leaving attorneys in the position of either continuing to prepare for trial or pausing to fully explore the matter at hand.
The three-day jury trial was rescheduled to take place in August.