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Couple plead not guilty in crucifixion-style death

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah couple facing charges stemming from the death of a disabled woman who was bound crucifixion-style to a metal bar inside a small closet pleaded not guilty Monday to criminal charges in a Salt Lake City courtroom.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah couple facing charges stemming from the death of a disabled woman who was bound crucifixion-style to a metal bar inside a small closet pleaded not guilty Monday to criminal charges in a Salt Lake City courtroom.

Prosecutors have charged 52-year-old Dale Beckering and his wife, 50-year-old Sherrie Beckering, with intentional aggravated abuse of a disabled adult in the death of 22-year-old Christina Harms.

The Beckerings shared a home with Sherrie Beckering's daughter, Cassandra Shepard, and Harms, whose body was found hanging there March 25.

Harms suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and functioned at the level of a 12-year-old. She was found with severe bruises on her thigh and head, and a pepper seed in one of her eyelids.

Authorities say Harms' hands had been bound with cloth bandages so she could not remove the pepper seed.

Authorities also say that Harms was forced to wear a diaper while bound inside the closet, which was equipped with an alarm system.

Shepard, 27, who was Harms' legal guardian, has been charged with first-degree felonies of murder and aggravated abuse of a disabled adult. She's also facing a second-degree felony charge of obstructing justice.

A hearing in her case is set for July 11.

A state judge ordered Dale and Sherrie Beckering to stand trial on the charges in early June.

In 3rd District Court on Monday, defense attorneys for the couple entered not guilty pleas on their behalf and told Judge Robert Faust they intend to petition the court to separate the couple's cases.

Attorney Rudy Bautista, who represents Dale Beckering, said his client had been working 12 hour shifts as a machinist and was not involved in Harm's care.

He said he wants the cases separated because of statements made by Sherrie Beckering during a preliminary hearing that they had "all" cared for Harms.

"That's not factually true," Bautista said after the hearing. "(Dale Beckering) was not her legal guardian, he had no responsibility for her care."

Trying to separate those facts during a joint trial for the couple would be difficult for a jury, Bautista said.

Bautista said Beckering had allowed his step-daughter and Harms to live in the main part of his home, while he and his wife stayed in the basement. Despite that proximity, Bautista said Dale Beckering didn't know the details of Harms' care and compared the situation to parents who don't know their own children are using drugs or alcohol.

Salt Lake County prosecutors, however, contend the Beckerings had watched Harms at one point because Shepard was overwhelmed.

Sherrie Beckering's defense attorney, David Berceau, declined comment on the case on Monday.

Another hearing for the couple, who are both being held in the Salt Lake County Jail, is set for July 18.

If they are convicted of the charges, the Beckerings each face a life prison sentence.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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