SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Dozens of victims have been waiting for justice to be served, but like most other things, the coronavirus pandemic put that on hold. For one Utah mother whose son was brutally stabbed to death in 2019, she believes it opened a loophole for the suspect.
“He would do anything for anyone,” said Kay Lynn Stafford of her son.
Stafford described her son, Cory Haney, as a friend to everyone, but fears that generosity led to his death.
“Unfortunately it was, it definitely was,” said Stafford.
In March 2019, Stafford got a call that changed her life.
“That just started our nightmare saying that Cory was killed,” she said.
Detectives quickly zeroed in on Haney’s roommate and long-time friend Jesse Joel Bruce, who allegedly confessed to the killing in a 9-1-1 call, later claiming it was self defense.
“Cory had been stabbed to death brutally,” said Stafford.
” He [My son] didn’t have a chance to take a break, so why does the criminal get to take a break.” The prime suspect in a violent murder is out on bail after his jury trial was postponed due to the pandemic. Tonight, a mother is advocating for her murdered son…@KSL5TV pic.twitter.com/LWvNlkE0wN
— Garna Mejia KSL (@GarnaMejiaKSL) May 1, 2021
The trial was initially set for early 2020, but with the pandemic, everything was put on hold, except for Bruce’s request to lower his bond.
The request had been passed on twice before, however, during a June 2020 scheduling conference and hearing for a bond reduction motion, the judge had a change of heart.
“The allegations in the probable cause statement appear pretty sound,” said Judge Richard McKelvie. “Balancing that is the fact that, as we sit here right now, we have no idea, quite frankly, when we’ll be able to try this case. Our numbers in terms of the coronavirus in the last week or so have not been going in the right direction. We are nowhere near close to have any meaningful proceeding here. It’s a very difficult balance to try to find a way to assuage the concerns of the state and the family of the victim against the defendant’s right for a speedy trial.”
Citing Bruce’s right to a speedy trial, the judge agreed to lower the $1 million bond.
“From the current set to $250,000,” he said.
Bruce posted bail in late July 2020.
The judge stipulated that Bruce wear an ankle monitor and have no contact with victims or witnesses, but declined the request to place him under house arrest.
“I couldn’t believe that he would even be allowed to get out on bail with the brutal murder and the brutal things he had done to my son,” said Stafford. “Cory didn’t get a time out, he didn’t have a chance to just take a break, so why does the criminal get to take a break?”
Bruce is currently under supervision of Salt Lake County’s Criminal Justice services.
In an email statement to KSL-TV, Austin Mort, trial attorney for the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association, said in part of his client, “Jesse is presumed innocent,” and is an example of why judges need to look beyond the allegations when deciding to release someone before their trial:
“Jesse sat in jail for sixteen months waiting for his chance to go to court and contest this allegation. After two delays of his trial date — one caused by the State being unprepared for the original trial date in the first week of March 2020, the other by COVID bringing the court system to a grinding halt last summer — Judge McKelvie modified the bail amount to $250,000, which Jesse was able to post through a bail-bondsman. Since then, Jesse has had his every move tracked by an ankle monitor which was installed and maintained entirely at his own expense. The court-approved monitoring company files regular updates with the court about Jesse’s compliance, and has yet to report even the slightest violation. Judge McKelvie set additional clear conditions of Jesse’s release, which are designed to ensure his continued appearance in court, the safety of the community, and the integrity of the court process, and Jesse has abided by every single one of them. Jesse is presumed innocent, and has proven to be an example of why it is necessary in every case for the courts to look beyond the nature of the allegations when deciding whether someone should sit in jail while awaiting trial.”
According to Geoff Fatah, public information officer for The Utah Court system, more than 288 criminal jury trials were put on hold during the pandemic.
“I had a lot of faith in that justice system,” said Stafford.
Stafford said that faith was diminishing, especially after learning priority in scheduling jury trials is given to cases where the suspect is still in jail.
“[The defense] don’t care how far out it is because he is free and walking,” she said. “The timing for the trail provided a loophole for him.”
Stafford said she can only start healing when jury trials resume.
“There will always be a hole in my heart,” she said. “It won’t heal.”
Bruce’s trail has been set for January 2022.
In the meantime, Haney’s parents have filed a civil lawsuit for $2 million, citing it as a desperate effort to hold him accountable.