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Heber • Faced with rape charges that could have put him in prison for the rest of his life, political activist Greg Peterson killed himself Tuesday, just days after posting a $2 million bond and being released from jail.
Peterson, 37, was found dead in his Heber City cabin, the site of some of the highlights of his political endeavors, and the place where prosecutors said Peterson raped at least two of his victims.
Peterson's death was confirmed Tuesday night by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and defense attorney Cara Tangaro.
Gill charged Peterson in July with 25 charges of assault, rape and kidnapping stemming from alleged attacks on four women he met through LDS dating websites. Later, Wasatch County prosecutors filed similar charges involving a fifth alleged victim.
Peterson had been in the Salt Lake County jail until Friday, when he posted bond and was allowed to walk free.
On Tuesday, two men from All Out Bail Bonds, which had posted bail for Peterson, went to check on Peterson at his cabin because the battery on his ankle monitor needed to be recharged and he had not answered their calls, said Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner.
The two men arrived at the cabin, about 8 miles east of Heber in an area called Timberlake Estates, shortly before 5 p.m. They did not see his car, and the cabin was dark, Bonner said.
A door was unlocked, so they entered the cabin and began looking for Peterson. They found him dead on a bed in an upstairs bedroom with a self-inflicted wound to the head, Bonner said.
The men then called 911. The sheriff's office received the call about 5 p.m.
Bonner said investigators have confirmed the body was Peterson's and believe he killed himself, although they didn't know what kind of weapon was used. Bonner said there were multiple weapons inside the house, but did not describe the weapons. He didn't know if Peterson had left a suicide note.
Bonner said Peterson's mother was upset upon being told of her son's death.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Peterson's attorneys said that his family is in mourning and that Peterson always maintained his innocence and was confident that a jury would acquit him.
"Greg felt an enormous pressure from the media and their one sided and inaccurate reporting of this case which vilianized him from day one," attorneys Jerry Salcido and Cara Tangaro wrote in the statement.
Bonner said Peterson is believed to have committed suicide Tuesday because the last activity on the ankle monitor was Tuesday afternoon when Peterson was walking around his cabin.
Deputies are still investigating the death.
"This has been a tragedy of a case from the beginning," said Wasatch County Attorney Scott Sweat. "There's been nothing good about it."
When asked what the suicide says about Peterson's guilt or innocence, Sweed replied: "Let everyone make up their minds about that."
Gill said his office was not aware of any indication Peterson had made that he may have been considering suicide.
Gill said the alleged victims in the case all had been notified as soon as his office confirmed Peterson's death.
"There is a full range of emotions there," Gill said of the women's reactions. "Anxiety to relief to grief. The victims are coming from a totally different reference point."
Gill said speculation that the victims are disappointed the case will never be finalized is "overly simplistic" and overlooks the stress of being involved in a sex abuse case.
"There's a perception out there, of, 'I'd want to see my accused [in court] and hold them accountable,' " Gill said. "Those are valid emotions. But there's also a lot of anxiety. Nobody likes going through the process [of testifying] ... and reliving everything."
Political activism • Peterson's claim to fame among Utah Republicans was the Rocky Mountain Conservatives Convention and BBQ established in 2010.
It successfully drew some of the biggest names in Utah politics, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee, Gov. Gary Herbert and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz. At the third convention this past summer, it hosted a debate with candidates John Swallow and Sean Reyes, who were vying for the GOP nomination for attorney general. It also brought in both Mia Love and Chris Stewart two high-profile GOP candidates for Congress.
At the event, Peterson cracked jokes as the emcee and had his picture taken with many politicos. He often posted those pictures on Facebook, giving the impression he was a major player in Utah politics.
But behind the event and frozen smiles in photo after photo, anger and rage brewed leaving several who worked closely with him to vow never to do so again.
Candace Salima, who served on the committee that organized the event, said she was shocked at the suicide, but not the charges that Peterson faced.
"To imagine how [his family] are feeling is just breaking my heart," Salima said. "But Greg was a very angry man. He was very arrogant, very difficult to get along with and I don't doubt he did what they said he did. But I find the whole thing incredibly sad."
She said at one planning meeting, "he came so unglued, I kept my gun handy."
"He would raise his voice, but not to a yell," she said. "But the intensity would magnify like you wouldn't believe."
Like others, she felt fear when he was released on bail.
Arturo Morales-Llan, who knew one of the victims, said he had to try to calm the victim down when the news of his release broke.
"She went into another panic attack," he said.
According to documents filed in 3rd District Court, the long list of charges against Peterson paint a dark picture of a man who regularly used fear and intimidation to assault and rape women.
• In March 2011, Peterson drove a woman he met at a church activity in Draper to his cabin in Heber, when she had only agreed to go with him to a movie. During the drive, Peterson told the woman he had a concealed weapons permit and pointed to the center console of his car where he reportedly kept a gun. At the cabin, Peterson assaulted and raped the woman.
• In July 2011, Peterson took a woman to a movie in Sandy. He later asked her to go out to dinner, but instead drove to the Heber cabin and raped her. The woman said he threatened to have her deported for an expired visa. The next day he forced her to go to his mother's house in Lewiston, Utah, where he continued to sexually assault her over the next two days.
• In December 2011, Peterson was supposed to go on a lunch date with a woman he met through an online dating site. Peterson walked into her West Jordan home, pushed her onto the couch and sexually assaulted her after she told him to stop.
• On April 21, 2012, Peterson met with another woman he met through a dating website. He pushed her down on the bed in her Salt Lake City home and grabbed her. After a struggle, the woman managed to get him out of her house.
The arrest and subsequent charges filed against Peterson left him with very few friends and a largely decimated reputation.
Which is why Michael Jolley was a bit surprised to get an email and phone call from him Sunday.
Swath of destruction • Jolley only knew Peterson for a year, but they bonded over tea party values and a lunch at Cafe Rio, where they discussed working together on future projects.
"I had blogged about the convention and he liked what I had done," Jolley said. "So he hired me to do some work for his company."
Peterson was a certified financial planner and the owner of Peterson Wealth Management and Smartstocks.com, an online trading website. He held an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from Brigham Young University.
Jolley said he remembered how complicated Peterson was flashing that anger but at the same time having trouble firing an employee at Smartstocks.com
"Volatile is a good word to describe him," Jolley said.
Talking to him Sunday ("With him, it's hard to get a word in edgewise"), Jolley said he heard him cry for the first time. He also heard him maintain his innocence during the call and said he wanted Jolley to come to the cabin to show him some documents.
Jolley didn't want to.
"I didn't think it was safe," he said.
On the phone, however, he mostly listened.
"He seemed sad and desperate," Jolley said. "But also frustrated."
McKay Christensen said he was frustrated, too.
Christensen worked with Peterson on the convention committee and said all that's left is a swath of destruction left in the wake of the suicide. He said he feels badly for the victims and hopes they can get closure.
He also said Peterson left the convention in shambles a convention that was dreamed up to heal a rift in the Republican Party after a bitter political fight between Sen. Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater.
As it grew in stature, Christensen said they were looking to book big conservative names to the 2013 event including commentator Michelle Malkin.
"It had the potential to do something great," Christensen said. "It's really brought people together and it's sad on every note that it's all gone."
Tribune reporters Robert Gehrke, Erin Alberty and Aaron Falk contributed to this story.
March 2011 • Peterson allegedly drives a woman he met at a Mormon church-sponsored fundraiser in Draper to his cabin in Heber, telling her he has a gun in the center console of his car. At the cabin, Peterson allegedly assaults and rapes the woman.
July 1, 2011 • Peterson hosts the Rocky Mountain Conservatives barbecue at his Heber cabin; Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Gov. Gary Herbert and congressional candidate Mia Love were in attendance.
July 2011 • Peterson allegedly drives another woman to the Heber cabin and assaults her. The woman said he threatened to have her deported. The next day he forces her to go to his mother's house in Lewiston, Utah, where he continues to sexually assault her over the next two days.
December 2011 • After a lunch date with a third woman, Peterson allegedly sexually assaults her at her home.
April 21, 2012 • Peterson meets a fourth woman through a dating website. On their first date, he allegedly pushes her down on the bed in her Salt Lake City home and grabs her. After a struggle, the woman manages to get him out of her house.
July 16 • The Salt Lake County attorney's office charges Peterson with 25 counts, most of them felonies, of assault, rape and kidnapping.
Aug. 13 • The Wasatch County attorney's office charges Peterson with one count of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse involving a fifth victim.
Aug. 15 • Peterson is ordered to stand trial on 24 felonies and one misdemeanor in 3rd District Court. Judge Judith Atherton raised bail to $2 million from $750,000.
Aug. 24 • Arraignment in 3rd District Court. Peterson refuses to appear.
Aug. 29 • Initial appearance on Wasatch County charge.
Sept. 28 • A judge affirms Peterson's $2 million bail; Peterson's attorneys had contested Atherton's August bail enhancement.
Oct. 23 • Peterson is found dead in his Heber cabin, with an apparent self-inflicted wound to his head.