When the general public hears that a defendant in a criminal case has been offered a plea deal, they often assume that the deal will drastically reduce the person's sentence. Sometimes, accepting a plea deal can actually mean the difference between a life sentence and a death sentence. A man accused of murdering an elderly Utah woman over 20 years ago took a plea bargain in his criminal defense, and the death penalty was removed from possible punishments.
In May 1993, the then 21-year-old man allegedly broke into the assisted living apartment of a 92-year-old woman. He then purportedly sexually assaulted and beat her. The woman -- mother of five and grandmother of many -- did not survive the attack.
The events leading up to the man's arrest and criminal trial over 20 years later were not made publicly available. The total charges that he faced were also not clear, but he pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in April. Being found guilty of this crime is punishable by the death penalty, but he accepted a plea deal that took the death penalty away. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The plea agreement included a significant concession from prosecutors, likely negotiated with the man's criminal defense team, when they withdrew the death penalty as a potential sentence. Additionally, the Utah man has the possibility of parole after a number of years. While it can be presumed that this man chose to accept the plea offer because he thought it was in his best interest, any defendant offered a plea deal for violent crimes has the option to reject it and put the prosecution to its proof in the courtroom.
Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, "Man gets prison for up to life for killing Utah woman in 1993", Jessica Miller, June 10, 2014