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Court denies Dutton's murder convition appeal

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

An appeals court has upheld the murder conviction against a 57-year-old Ivanhoe man in the Jan. 3, 2007, shooting death of his estranged wife.

Robert Allen Dutton was convicted in the first-degree murder of his wife, 41-year-old Sandra, by a seven-man, five-woman jury in a Carroll County Circuit Court trial.

Dutton was also found guilty of burglary and use of a firearm. He was sentenced to two life terms plus three years in prison.

Sandra Lambert Dutton, 41, of 47 Jasper Lane in Ivanhoe, died in the home she had shared with her husband from gunshot wounds to the head and back.

Carroll County deputies found her body on her bed, her keys in the lock on the open outside door, her pocketbook and packages on the floor just inside an otherwise tidy house.

The couple had been living apart for about three months when the shooting occurred.

The jury convicted Dutton after two investigators testified that he had made statements indicating he had been responsible for his wife's death.

Crying so hard he couldn’t speak at times in the interview, Dutton would say things like “Oh, Lord, I wish you’d take that gun and kill me, I can’t live with what I done,” and “I don’t know why I’d kill her over something like that,” Carroll County Sheriff's Officer Venton Smith testified during the trial.

But after the investigators wrote out his statement, Dutton refused to sign it.

In his appeal, Dutton argues that the court erred in not suppressing his statements made to the police, because those statements were not recorded.

The appeals court ruling notes that Dutton had received Miranda warnings before making statements to the authorities, but he still argues that "the trial court should have excluded the police officer's testimony about appellant's statements because the police did not record the interview."

There is no legal precedent for the need for a recording, the appeals court noted, but that Dutton felt a recording was necessary for an "evolving sense of due process and need for accuracy."

"Neither the due process requirements of the United State Constitution nor those found in the Virginia Constitution include such a requirement, and this court will not create one," the appellate court ruling stated. "Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying the motion to suppress."

Dutton also objected in his appeal to the trial court's admitting evidence that found both Dutton's and his wife's DNA on a spent shotgun shell.

Shotgun shells found at the scene also had the same tooling marks as unfired rounds found by investigators in Dutton's truck. All the shells came from the same bunter at the same manufacturer.

Dutton in his appeal argued that these scientific findings were not relevant to the case and should not have been considered.

He had lived at the residence until September 2006, and his DNA could have gotten on the shotgun shell that way, he argued.

"This evidence was relevant, however, as the presence of appellant's DNA on a shotgun casing found at the scene of Dutton's shooting tended to connect him to the killing," the appeals court ruling said.

So too with the shells found at the crime scene and the matching ones in Robert Dutton's truck, the ruling says.

"This court finds the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the relevant DNA evidence and expert tool mark testimony," the ruling stated.

Dutton can appeal this ruling, this time to a three-judge panel of the appellate court.