The Salt Lake Tribune, Saturday, August 24, 2002
BY KEVIN CANTERA
Nearly two decades after Elroy Tillman was sent to death row for murdering his ex-lover’s boyfriend, his lawyers will seek testimony Friday that reveals secret details about an LDS temple ceremony.
Third District Judge Leslie Lewis scheduled next week’s proceeding after an hourlong hearing Friday in which Tillman’s lawyers and attorneys from the state argued whether new evidence should be admitted in the case.
Lawyers for Tillman said that defense counsel during his 1983 murder trial did not understand subtle religious references made by a prosecutor during the sentencing phase. They say Mormon jurors were influenced by the allusions when they condemned Tillman to die.
“When [Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Michael] Christensen talked about ‘God shall not be mocked,’ the defense lawyer could not know it was part of the LDS temple ritual,” said Michael Sikora, one of Tillman’s attorneys.
Assistant Utah Attorney General Erin Riley countered that two separate Tillman petitions for post-conviction relief already dealt with the questionable statements. Those petitions failed in state and federal court.
Lewis has yet to rule on Tillman’s request for an evidentiary hearing, which also would examine whether prosecutors withheld transcripts of a police interview with Tillman’s accomplice, Carla Sagers.
Sagers accompanied Tillman when he crept into a Salt Lake City home May 26, 1982, and used an ax to bludgeon Mark Schoenfeld, who was dating Tillman’s ex-girlfriend. Sagers received immunity for her key testimony at trial.
Next week’s hearing was scheduled to accommodate McCaye Christianson, another of Tillman’s lawyers, who is planning a yearlong trip to Austria. A lifelong Mormon, Christianson noticed the alleged LDS references when she joined Tillman’s defense team last year.
Testimony is expected from writer Tim Slover, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has worked at Brigham Young University. Slover has said in an affidavit that Christensen made references to the Mormon temple endowment ceremony, which members believe is a necessary part of achieving eternal life.
Sikora asked that the hearing be closed to the news media because of church leaders’ “sensitivity” over revealing details of the sacred ceremony. Lewis rejected that request.
Tillman’s execution, once scheduled for June 24, 2001, has been stayed until all the legal issues have been resolved.