A jury found a 20-year-old man who reportedly shot and killed another man at an Orem apartment in 2019 not guilty on three out of the four charges prosecuted by the Utah County Attorney’s Office out of Provo, including first-degree felony murder.
The Utah County Attorney’s Office charged Elbert John Paule of Chula Vista, California, with two felony and two misdemeanor charges after prosecutors alleged he shot 26-year-old Dominique Barnett at his apartment in Orem in front of Barnett’s girlfriend in February 2019.
According to the probable cause statement filed in support of his arrest last February, Barnett allegedly went to Paule’s apartment complex to visit him. When Barnett arrived at his apartment, Paule allegedly opened the door and shot Barnett point-blank in the torso without warning using a 12 gauge shotgun.
Paule then allegedly threw the shotgun off of the apartment balcony and fled from the complex. He eventually turned himself over to police officers.
Barnett was transported to the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center where he succumbed to the gunshot wound and was pronounced dead about an hour after the shooting. An autopsy revealed the shotgun blast had caused significant trauma to Barnett’s liver causing him to quickly bleed to death.
Barnett and Paule allegedly had a verbal altercation over the phone the day of the shooting, and witnesses told police, according to an unsealed search warrant, that Paule was paranoid that Barnett was coming to fight him.
The office filed charges of first-degree felony murder, second-degree felony obstruction of justice, class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment, and class B misdemeanor assault in March 2019. Paule entered a plea of not guilty for each charge the following month.
In September, District Judge Lynn Davis set an eight-day trial for March 2 through March 13 at 4th District Court in Provo. If convicted of the murder charge alone, Paule could have been sentenced to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison.
After seven days of evidence and cross examination of witnesses, the jury found Paule not guilty of the first-degree felony murder charge as well as the class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment and class B misdemeanor assault charges.
“Elbert and his entire family had come up from San Diego,” Paule’s defense attorney Rudy Bautista said. “The sigh of relief of the acquittal, they all had tears in their eyes, including Elbert.”
The jury, however, did find Paule guilty of second-degree felony obstruction of justice. Bautista said he believes the case has strong appellate issues.
The conviction was based on the prosecution’s argument that Paule’s alleged action of throwing the shotgun from the balcony was an attempt to hide or destroy evidence, but Bautista said the prosecution did not present evidence on how the weapon could have landed where it had if it was thrown off of the balcony.
Bautista plans to appeal the conviction by filing a motion to suspend judgment, which will be sent to Davis for approval. He said he expects the judge to deny the request, and in that case, Paule will be sentenced as planned.
Paule’s attorney said he has never seen anyone in Paule’s situation sentenced to more than probation, especially because his client has already served the average time in prison for obstruction of justice, which is 9-12 months, according to the guidelines.
“I would be surprised if the judge sends him to prison,” Bautista said. “He shouldn’t be punished for the crimes he was acquitted of.”
Overall, Bautista said he is thankful to the jury for maintaining open minds throughout the course of the proceedings. Had the defense been able to present all of its evidence, he said, Bautista is confident the jury would have come to the same conclusion much faster.
Paule will appear in court on April 22 at 1:30 p.m. to receive sentencing for the second-degree felony charge.