Mel Wilson was known by family and colleagues alike as a fair-minded attorney who spent much of his career up until his final years fighting for the rights of crime victims throughout the state.
Wilson, who served as the Davis County attorney for close to 20 years and later as the director for the state Office of Victims of Crime, died Friday at 68 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
"He was an outstanding attorney very personable and committed to seeing the law applied in the way that it should be," said former colleague Rodney Page.
Page said he and Wilson grew up together in Clearfield, but he got to know Wilson best as a deputy county attorney while Page oversaw the Davis County Attorney's Office until he was appointed a district judge in 1984.
Wilson was a "gentleman" in the courtroom, and earned the respect of the state bar and the state's judges, Page said.
"He was always concerned with fairness," he said. "It didn't matter whether it dealt with those being prosecuted or with the victims of a crime."
Troy Rawlings, Wilson's successor as Davis County attorney, worked under Wilson as a deputy county attorney for six years. Before taking over the office in 2006, Rawlings learned a lot from Wilson, he said.
Rawlings credited Wilson with the office's push to put more victim's advocates in police stations and working to enhance the Victims' Bill of Rights as outlined in the Utah State Code.
"That was his primary focus making sure that we address victims' issues," Rawlings said.
Wilson's son, who is serving his first term in the Utah House of Representatives, said that virtually any bill having to do with crime victims' rights that passed through the Legislature had his father's fingerprints on it somewhere.
"He loved fighting for what he thought was right," Brad Wilson said.
Brad Wilson remembered spending time with the family helping his father campaign for office. While that wasn't something he liked very much about his father's political career, Brad Wilson said his father did instill in his children a love of public service.
As a father, Wilson was easy to be around and talk to, he said.
"He let people live their own lives," Brad Wilson said. "He knew that one of the most important lessons you needed to learn growing up was how to pick yourself up when you fall."
As Davis County attorney from 1987 to 2006, Wilson tried many high-profile criminal cases in Utah's 2nd District Court, including the capital murder case of Mark Ott, who was convicted of killing his six-year-old stepdaughter in 2002 when he set fire to his estranged wife's Layton home after stabbing two people.
Wilson also tried the controversial case of Roger MacGuire, which established, after wrangling in the Utah Supreme Court, that fetuses at any stage of development could be considered murder victims. MacGuire was convicted in 2004 of two murder counts for killing his ex-wife, who was 15 weeks pregnant, in Layton.
Wilson was born Nov. 14, 1943, and grew up in Clearfield. He obtained his law degree from the University of Utah in 1971. Before he was elected as Davis County attorney in 1987, Wilson worked as a private practice attorney, Clearfield city prosecutor, public defender and Davis County deputy attorney.
Wilson had five children with his first wife, Gay Gunnell, and adopted two more children with his second wife, Sue Spooner. Funeral services will be held in Bountiful on Thursday at 11 a.m. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse, 640 S. 750 East.