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During opening statements Tuesday in a murder trial for one of four defendants accused in a 2013 kidnapping and execution-style shooting near a Weber County ski resort, prosecutors said that while Viliamu Seumanu did not shoot the victim, he was certainly part of the horrific crime.
Seumanu, 43, is charged with one count of murder and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, all first-degree felonies, along with one second-degree felony count obstruction of justice, in the Nov. 23, 2013, death of 34-year-old Cleat Knight.
Prosecutor Nathan Evershed told a 3rd District Court jury that Seumanu helped take Knight to a spot near Snowbasin ski resort and ordered him to sit down. Knight was then shot by two other men payback for the alleged theft of drug money.
But the defense countered jurors will hear many inconsistencies during the week-long trial. "You'll hear no evidence that [Seumanu] planned anything," said defense attorney Rudy Bautista.
Seumanu is not expected to take the stand to testify on his own behalf, according Bautista, who told The Tribune that Seumanu was coerced to participate in the events that led to Knight's death and did so under duress.
Knight's body was found under six feet of snow near Snowbasin on Jan. 7, 2014, more than a month after Salt Lake County prosecutors say Knight and his friend Andrew Beck were held captive for hours in a West Valley City garage and then driven bound, blindfolded and at gunpoint to Weber County where Knight was shot in the back and left to die.
"Knight pleaded for his life and asked them not to go through with their plans," according to court documents.
Prosecutors contend Seumanu helped plan Knight's murder, along with Christopher Leech, Theron Myore and Tina Soules.
Court papers also say Seumanu also marched Knight and Beck the 100 yards from a truck to the moonlit spot at the base of snowy ridge where the shooting occurred.
Seumanu, under orders from Leech, also destroyed any evidence that would show Knight had been held in the garage and disposed of Beck's clothes, court papers say.
According to testimony during a 2014 preliminary hearing, Knight was killed for allegedly stealing money, drugs and a rental car from Soules, an alleged drug dealer who is also Seumanu's sister-in-law.
At the scene of the homicide, Leech shot Knight in the back, then handed Beck a gun and forced him to also shoot Knight, Beck testified at the preliminary hearing.
Beck testified that Leech told him, " 'Finish it or you're next,' " Beck testified. "I didn't know what to do. I said, 'OK.' "
Leech, Beck said, had another gun pointed to the back of his head in case he "got any ideas."
Back testified that he fired the gun at close range, standing right above Knight.
Seumanu's wife, Dawnie Seumanu, also testified for the state at the same hearing. She told a judge her husband went along with the kidnapping and shooting because he was afraid of Leech.
Leech, Myore and Soules all face their own set of murder and kidnapping charges and have entered pleas of not guilty.
Leech is scheduled for a trial in July. Myore is set for an August hearing and is expected to enter a guilty plea to reduced charges. No trial date has been set for Soules.
Tribune reporter Pamela Manson contributed to this story.