A Utah County couple was jailed on Saturday after a routine traffic stop allegedly linked them to the shooting death of a Payson man whom police said was dealing drugs in the parking lot of an abandoned truck stop.
Twenty-eight-year-old Jeff Vern Jensen was found dead from a single 12-gauge shotgun blast to the chest outside an old Flying J gas station about 9:30 p.m. Friday on Main Street in Payson, police Lt. Bill Wright said. Jensen's car, parked nearby, had also been burglarized.
As police launched a homicide investigation, officers had already detained and were questioning 26-year-old Stephan A. Sutton after a traffic stop about 12 blocks away.
The stop for violations including following another car too closely, and driving with brights on should have been routine, but Sutton fled the scene on foot, Wright said.
Two officers gave chase and Sutton was captured blocks away, only to try and flee a second time while waiting for medical attention after police deployed a Taser to subdue him.
Blood spatter on the door of Sutton's pickup truck and other evidence in "plain view" inside the vehicle linked him to Jensen's death almost immediately, Wright said.
There was no gun inside Sutton's truck, but officers later found the shotgun believed to have been used in the slaying on the side of a road elsewhere in Payson, he said.
Investigators are still trying to determine what precipitated the shooting, but Wright said officers believe Sutton and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Chaelisa Nielsen, of Springville, were buying drugs from Jensen. Police found no weapon on Jensen's body, Wright said.
In documents filed with the Utah County jail, investigators say Nielsen told police she and Sutton planned to rob Jensen, Wright said. The documents also say Sutton contends he fired on Jensen in self-defense.
Police have interviewed several witnesses from a Quality Inn motel adjacent to the gas station, at 830 N. Main St., to determine whether anyone saw Jensen prior to the discovery of his body, Wright said. A Quality Inn employee who answered the phone Friday night said several employees saw what happened but added they had been told not to talk to the news media.
Sutton was booked into jail early Saturday on suspicion of charges that include aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, obstruction justice, escape from custody and interfering with an arrest.
Nielsen was booked on suspicion of aggravated robbery and obstruction of justice charges.
For now, police believe Sutton is responsible for Jensen's shooting death, Wright said.
A check of Utah State Court records found no prior criminal charges or convictions for either Sutton or Nielsen. Only a traffic ticket was found in court records for Jensen.
Police will screen the case for formal criminal charges with prosecutors next week, Wright said.
The apparent homicide is Payson's second for the year, he said.