A Provo district judge sentenced a 20-year-old man found not guilty of first-degree felony murder by a jury to prison for second-degree felony obstruction of justice for attempting to conceal the weapon involved.
Elbert John Paule of Chula Vista, California, was charged with first-degree felony murder, second-degree felony obstruction of justice, class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment and class B misdemeanor assault.
The charges stem from the night 26-year-old Dominique Barnett was shot and killed at Paule’s apartment in Orem in February 2019.
According to the probable cause statement filed in support of his arrest, Barnett went to Paule’s apartment complex to visit him, but when Barnett arrived at the residence, Paule allegedly looked through the peep hole, exclaimed “Aw, h--l no,” and opened the door, shooting Barnett in the torso using a 12-gauge shotgun.
The shooting took place in front of Barnett’s fiancé.
Paule then allegedly threw the shotgun off the apartment balcony and fled to California where he eventually turned himself over to police.
Paule’s mother, Marrisa Marquez, remembers getting a call from her mother, who lived next door, telling her that Paule had arrived at the home in the early hours of the morning. Marquez said at that time, Paule said he had come to give them one last hug before turning himself in.
“I trusted the justice system, and he did, too,” she said. “He didn’t want to do what he did, and every time Elbert and I call each other, we still pray for Barnett’s family and also the judge.”
The office filed the charges in March 2019, and Paule entered a plea of not guilty for each charge the following month. If convicted of the murder charge alone, Paule could have been sentenced to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison.
In September, District Judge Lynn Davis set an eight-day trial for March 2 through March 13 at Fourth District Court in Provo. After seven days of evidence and cross examination of witnesses, the jury found Paule not guilty of the murder, reckless endangerment and assault charges.
The jury, however, did find Paule guilty of second-degree felony obstruction of justice.
“The sigh of relief of the acquittal, they all had tears in their eyes, including Elbert,” one of Paule’s defense attorneys Rudy Bautista said in a previous interview.
Marquez remembers her son as a caring young man who enjoyed playing football, surfing and golfing. While in Utah, he had begun to participate in boxing classes with hopes of joining the United States Marines, following in his mother’s footsteps.
She raised Paule as a single mother, working a full-time job as a nurse consultant in correctional facilities for the Department of Justice after retiring from her positions as an officer in the United States Air Force.
When Paule began to get involved with “the wrong crowd,” Marquez sent him to Discovery Academy in Utah, a residential treatment center with an academic focus founded in 1989. When he graduated from the program, she helped him enroll in classes at Utah Valley University while he prepared for the military.
“I will be the first one to be sure that my son is punished if I know that he has done something wrong,” she said. “I know as a leader, I know as an officer, I know in working with the Department of Justice the difference between right and wrong. I worked hard to make sure that I could be a good role model for my son.”
Initially, Bautista said he would be surprised if Paule would be sentenced to serve time in prison, adding that Paule shouldn’t be punished for crimes he was previously acquitted of. On Thursday, however, Judge Davis handed down an unexpected sentencing.
Paule was sentenced to 1-15 years in Utah State Prison will credit for the 487 he has already served. The judge also sentenced Paule to pay a $10,000 fine, but suspended the total fine, opting to require Paule to pay a $793 fine and $1,994.55 in restitution, which includes interest.
“He should’ve been placed on probation,” one of Paule’s defense attorneys Jeanne Campbell said. “He should be out by now.”
In fact, she said, Adult Parole and Probation made a recommendation to the court, based on the jury’s decision and Paule’s criminal record, to sentence Paule to probation, suspending any prison or jail sentence. The judge ignored that recommendation.
Throughout the sentencing hearing, Campbell said the prosecution continued to reference Paule’s actions as a murder, despite a jury ruling that in shooting Barnett, Paule acted in self defense. In this case, Judge Davis sentenced Paule based on charges he was not found guilty of, she said.
Additionally, the Court allowed Barnett’s family to speak at the sentencing hearing as victims, which Campbell said also should not have happened. While the loss of a life is always terrible, she said, Paule was not found guilty of murder and therefore Barnett and his family are not victims.
“No wonder people don’t trust the justice system, this case didn’t run the way it should have,” Campbell said.
After the jury acquitted Paule of murder, the Utah County Attorney’s Office filed two second-degree felony charges for false or inconsistent material statements in March.
Officers state when Paule took the witness stand and testified on his own behalf on March 9 and 10, he made several false materially statements under oath, including the testimony that Paule did not open the door but Barnett did and that Barnett was in the apartment when Paule fired the shotgun, according to court documents.
Bautista said Paule should not be guilty of obstruction of justice in the first place, but moreover, the new charges against Paule are unsuitable. The prosecution, he said, argues that Paule was being untruthful while their witnesses were, despite impeachment evidence.
Additionally, he said, prosecutors are trying to argue that their witnesses are more truthful than Paule, which a jury already decided on in March when he was acquitted of murder.
“This is bad form on the Utah County Attorney’s Office and inappropriate,” Bautista said in a statement. “Are they now going to charge a rape complainant when the result is an acquittal for being untruthful? Or every time they lose a trial? Dangerous precedent coming from an office in which the county attorney wants to be our next attorney general.”
Campbell called the new charges filed by the Utah County Attorney’s Office “malicious prosecution.”
Moving forward, she said, Paule’s defense team is planning to file a motion to dismiss the new charges filed by the Utah County Attorney’s Office and appeal the obstruction of justice charge on the basis of a bad evidentiary ruling.
“I used to be a prosecutor,” Campbell said. “I know there are a lot of considerations to make, but they clearly got it wrong in this case.”
Paul is expected to appear before Judge Davis on July 22 at 8:30 a.m. for a waiver hearing on the eighth floor of the Fourth District Court in Provo.