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Utah Supreme Court Upholds Exoneration

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) – A Cache County woman exonerated after spending seventeen years behind bars for murder will remain free. That's the decision coming down Friday from the Utah Supreme Court.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) – A Cache County woman exonerated after spending seventeen years behind bars for murder will remain free. That's the decision coming down Friday from the Utah Supreme Court.

The Utah Supreme Court has spoken in a first of its kind case in our state. Legally clearing Debra Brown once and for all of the 1993 murder of her friend and boss, Lael Brown.

"This has been an eleven year ordeal for us and a twenty year ordeal for Debra Brown and we couldn't be more pleased that her ordeal is finally over," says Jensie Anderson, Legal Director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center.

Anderson personally delivered the news to Brown after the ruling was released.

"I have never heard her laugh with that kind of joy and relief and pleasure and it was really music to the ears," says Anderson.

But the ruling is hitting a sour note with the Utah Attorney General's office.

"We're obviously disappointed with that decision, we disagree with it," says Assistant Attorney General, Christopher Ballard.

Ballard believes Brown is guilty. He says she is getting off not because she proved her factual innocence by clear and convincing evidence. Instead he says the court found the state failed to properly challenge the finding of the judge who exonerated her back in 2011.

He points to the dissenting opinion of Justice Lee as a clear flaw in the ruling.

"As you can see in his opinion there are serious doubts about her alibi and her overall position that she did not commit this murder.”

Ballard says this is the first time the Utah Supreme Court has ruled on the standard of factual evidence and says the court is setting the bar low with this ruling.

Anderson, who was part of the committee that drafted the statute, says this case is a prefect example of its intent.

"To make sure that if we have someone in prison who was wrongfully convicted that they have the chance to prove that," says Anderson.

Two very different interpretations, but one undeniable conclusion. Debra Brown is free with all appeals from the prosecution exhausted.

Brown is now entitled to assistance from the state for her wrongful conviction. She'll receive about five hundred thousand dollars over the next ten years.

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