The Salt Lake Tribune, Saturday, August 31, 2002
BY KEVIN CANTERA
Nearly two decades ago — just after a jury had sent him to death row for murdering his ex-lover’s boyfriend — Elroy Tillman called his conviction “a racial Mormon conspiracy.”
On Friday, the condemned killer listened as a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints testified that the prosecutor at Tillman’s 1983 trial invoked Mormon doctrine when asking a jury for a death sentence.
“Only Mormons on the jury would recognize the phrase [used by the prosecutor] ‘God shall not be mocked,’ evoking the temple and things that go on in the temple,” said LDS scholar Tim Slover.
His testimony was part of a two-hour hearing, after which 3rd District Judge Leslie Lewis ruled that Tillman is entitled to present evidence that prosecutors violated his rights by failing to disclose evidence in the case.
In May 2001, before a scheduled commutation hearing, partial transcripts of a taped interview with Tillman’s accomplice Carla Sagers were turned over to his lawyers for the first time.
“Some 20 years after the fact, two undisclosed transcripts of an interview are unveiled — that is highly unusual,” Lewis said.
“I’m not sure it will entitle [Tillman] to a new trial, but it might entitle him to a new hearing on the penalty phase.”
Lewis’ ruling gives Tillman, now 67, “his day in court,” said attorney Loni DeLand, adding that Tillman could get life in prison with possibility of parole if a new sentencing hearing takes place.
But the evidentiary hearing Lewis scheduled for Dec. 16 will not address the alleged improper religious allusions, because those issues were raised unsuccessfully in earlier appeals, Lewis said.
Still, Slover was called as an early witness Friday to accommodate Tillman defense attorney McCaye Christianson, who is leaving next week for an extended trip to Europe.
Slover said that, during the penalty phase of Tillman’s trial, Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Michael Christensen alluded to “the doctrine of blood atonement.”
Slover said the doctrine has been espoused by Mormon general authorities Wilford Woodruff, Spencer W. Kimball and Bruce R. McConkie, and quoted LDS scripture, saying: “He that killeth shall die.”
Christensen used “coded messages that created a closed community between the LDS jury and the LDS attorney,” Slover said. “In other words, it makes a mockery of God if Tillman doesn’t get the death penalty.”
Assistant Utah Attorney General Erin Riley countered by referring to the LDS “Articles of Faith,” one of which says that Mormons are required to “honor the law.”
Lewis later called Slover’s testimony “enlightening” but “irrelevant.”
Tillman was convicted for the May 26, 1982, slaying of Mark Schoenfeld, who was bludgeoned with an ax and left to die in his Salt Lake City home.
Sagers, who accompanied Tillman during the murder, was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for her key testimony at trial.
Tillman’s execution has been stayed until the legal issues have been resolved.