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Conrad Truman

Other Utah Exonerations
On the night of September 30, 2012, 30-year-old Conrad Truman, frantic and hysterical, called 911 saying his 25-year-old wife, Heidi, had been shot in their home in Orem, Utah.

When police and emergency personnel arrived, they found Heidi naked and lying in a pool of blood. Truman, who was almost incoherent, fought them and had to be restrained after threatening to kill them if they did not save Heidi’s life. Despite their efforts, she died of a single bullet wound to the right side of her head.

Truman became a suspect almost immediately, police later said, because he gave varying accounts of what happened that night. He said that they had been drinking and Heidi went to take a bath after an inconsequential spat. He variously said that he was either in the kitchen or in the living room watching television when he heard a loud pop and found Heidi in a pool of blood at the end of a hallway coming from the bathroom. Police said they found two guns. The gun that fired the fatal bullet was Conrad’s, but he tried to claim it was Heidi’s gun.

Eventually, Truman refused to speak to detectives at all. In July 2013, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and obstruction of justice. Police said they believed the motive was money. The couple did not have much money but Heidi had life insurance policies worth nearly $900,000. The defense contended that the shooting was self-inflicted and likely an accident--that she had been carrying the gun and shot herself when she slipped and fell after emerging from the bath.

Truman went to trial in Fourth Judicial District Court in Provo, Utah in September 2014. Edward Leis, deputy chief medical examiner, testified that Heidi died from a “contact gunshot wound” as a result of the gun being pressed firmly against the right side of her head. Leis testified that the death was a homicide.

Leis discounted the defense contention that the shooting was an accident. “To have (the gun) near perpendicular to the side of the head as far as a falling and stumbling act—it seems extremely unlikely,” Leis told the jury.

The prosecution presented evidence that the hallway was 13.9 feet long. Leis testified that because the wound was so severe, if—as Truman had told police—Heidi shot herself just outside the bathroom door, she would have collapsed far short of the end of the hallway where her body was found.

Although Truman’s revolver fired the fatal shot, his fingerprints were not on the weapon. At the time of her death, Heidi had a blood-alcohol level of .07—just under the driving limit of .08. Five hours after the shooting, Truman’s blood-alcohol level was .07 as well.

The prosecution presented evidence about Heidi’s life insurance policies, as well as testimony from detectives and emergency personnel who described Truman’s various and shifting accounts.

The defense presented evidence that the couple was deeply in love and frequently left sticky notes around the house expressing their feelings for one another. A forensic expert testified that based on blood spatter found at the scene, it was likely that Heidi had shot herself.

Truman testified and denied shooting Heidi. He said that the night of the shooting, they were drinking whiskey and watching television when he heard yelling outside. He said he grabbed his gun and took the dog to investigate. He said he saw a strange man on the sidewalk and told Heidi about it when he came back inside.

He said they talked about getting another dog and that Heidi decided to take a bath because she became irritated. Truman said he believed she took the gun with her into the bathroom.

“Husband and wife teasing,” Truman said. About 20 minutes later, he heard a pop and saw his wife standing naked in the hallway. She staggered and collapsed. “There was a choking sound and blood. Everything happened so fast. It’s way too difficult to explain,” he testified.

On October 22, 2014, the jury convicted Truman of first-degree murder and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to 15 years to life on the murder charge and a consecutive one to 15 years on the obstruction charge.

Truman’s new attorneys, Ann Taliaferro and Mark Moffat, sought analysis of gunshot residue swabs that were collected from Truman and his wife at the scene of the shooting, but never tested. The defense sent them to a private testing firm, which found that Heidi had significant traces of residue on the webbing between her thumb and forefinger of her right hand and that there were no significant amounts of residue on Truman.

The defense also had determined that the length of the hallway was not 13.9 feet, but 139 inches—11.7 feet. That shorter distance called into question testimony from Leis, the chief deputy medical examiner, that Heidi could not have staggered the length of the hallway after being shot.

In August 2015, Taliaferro and Moffat filed a motion for a new trial. They cited the results of the gunshot residue analysis, as well as a sworn statement from Leis, the chief deputy medical examiner, saying that he could no longer classify the death as a homicide.

Leis changed his findings based on the new evidence regarding the hallway measurements. “I can no longer state with medical or scientific certainty which individual fired the fatal shot,” Leis said in the affidavit. “I can no longer rule out the possibility that Heidi Truman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”

The defense also presented for the first time financial records that showed the couple had thousands of dollars in retirement and investment accounts as well as savings and checking accounts—suggesting there was no financial motive for Truman to kill his wife.

In August 2016, Judge Samuel McVey granted the defense motion and ordered a new trial. The judge based his ruling solely on the mistake in describing the length of the hallway, finding that the shorter measurement made it more plausible that Heidi had indeed shot herself.

Truman went to trial a second time. Presented with the new evidence, the jury acquitted Truman and he was released on February 24, 2017.

In July 2017, Truman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the police and Utah County deputy attorney Craig Johnson seeking damages. The lawsuit alleged that Johnson purposely used the wrong measurements. The case was dismissed by a judge in July 2019.

In June 2021, the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the police officers, but reinstated the lawsuit against Johnson. "Mr. Truman's allegations paint a picture of arbitrary executive action that shocks the conscience," the Court of Appeals ruled.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/18/2017
Last Updated: 6/11/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:16 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:30
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No