SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has vacated the death sentence of condemned killer Von Lester Taylor.
In a ruling obtained by FOX 13 on Wednesday night, U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell overturned his sentence. She found that Taylor did not have effective legal counsel when he was initially charged.
"As a result, Mr. Taylor did not make a knowing and intelligent decision to plead guilty to two capital crimes," Judge Campbell wrote.
She granted Taylor's request for relief.
"Because Mr. Taylor’s death sentence was based on his invalid guilty plea, it must be vacated," the judge wrote.
In 1990, Taylor and his co-defendant, Edward Deli, broke into a cabin and killed Kaye Tiede and her mother, Beth Potts. The men kidnapped Linae and Tricia Tiede and shot their father, Rolf. They set the cabin on fire and fled. After a high-speed chase, both men were arrested. In 1991, Taylor pled guilty to capitol murder and was sentenced to execution. Deli is serving a life sentence.
In his appeals, Taylor raised 26 claims to support his assertion that his sentence violated his constitutional rights, Judge Campbell wrote. But she said she found most compelling Taylor's contention "that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel in connection with his guilty plea."
"The court finds that Mr. Taylor’s constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel was violated when he pleaded guilty to two capital murders based on inexcusably uninformed advice from counsel which then exposed him to the possibility of execution," Judge Campbell wrote. "The record shows there is a reasonable probability that, but for trial counsel’s failure to investigate, Mr. Taylor would not have pleaded guilty to two capital murders and would have insisted on going to trial with evidence that Mr. Deli, not Mr. Taylor, caused the deaths of Kaye Tiede and Beth Potts."
The Utah Attorney General's Office did not immediately have a comment on the ruling or if it would appeal the decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.