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Roger Mortensen entered a federal courtroom on Wednesday wearing a T-shirt, shorts, running shoes and handcuffs the same clothes he wore when he was arrested at his Payson home last summer on suspicion of murdering his father, former BYU professor Kay Mortensen.
He left unshackled, free to go home after a federal judge granted his release on the same day Utah County prosecutors filed capital murder charges against two men they now say carried out the slaying that Mortensen and his wife, Pamela, were originally accused of committing.
Martin Cameron Bond and Benjamin David Rettig, both 23, are charged with capital murder in connection with slitting 70-year-old Kay Mortensen's throat during a home-invasion robbery on Nov. 16, 2009. The two could face the death penalty if convicted.
News of the charges brought further vindication to Roger Mortensen, who spent five months in jail, accused of killing his father. Murder and obstruction-of-justice charges against Roger Mortensen, 48, and Pamela Mortensen, 36, who were arrested in July, were dropped.
Mortensen beamed at his wife as he was led into the federal courtroom, then turned to his defense attorney, Wendy Lewis, who offered her congratulations on the dismissal of his murder charges in state court.
"I am so happy for you," Lewis said at a hearing to grant Mortensen's release from custody on federal charges of being a felon in possession of a weapon. "Let's get you out."
"Please," an anxious Mortensen replied.
A few minutes later, U.S. Magistrate Brooke C. Wells ordered him released from custody.
Bond and Rettig were arrested last week after a tip led police to a Vernal home. Both remain in the Utah County jail on $1 million bail. According to charging documents, both admit to being involved in the slaying.
Bond told police Rettig slit Kay Mortensen's throat and stabbed him in the neck, making a "statement related to a gladiator."
Rettig has told police Bond is the one who cut Mortensen's throat, charges state. They also admitted to binding Roger and Pamela Mortensen with plastic ties so they could steal a cache of guns from the home, according to charges.
Detectives recovered at least 14 of Kay Mortensen's weapons at property Bond led them to, including some guns that were stuffed into a septic tank, charges state.
Deputy Utah County Attorney John Nielsen said the state has 60 days from the arraignment after a preliminary hearing to file notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
"It's obviously an eligible case," he said. "But I couldn't hazard an opinion on that right now."
Aggravated-murder charges in Utah carry potential penalties of death, life in prison without parole, or 25 years to life with the possibility of parole.
Mortensen's widow, Darla, said prosecutors haven't told her whether they will seek the death penalty.
"They're looking at it very seriously. ... I don't know how I feel about it, frankly. I definitely would want life without parole. But I'm not sure how I feel about the death penalty. It's all so new," she said.
Bond and Rettig appeared Wednesday in 4th District Court in Provo, where a judge declared them indigent and appointed public defenders for them. In addition to capital murder, Bond and Rettig were charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary, all first-degree felonies.
The next court appearances for both men are scheduled for Tuesday.
Pamela Mortensen attended her husband's hearing in federal court Wednesday, and she walked by his side as he left the courthouse. They declined to speak to reporters, saying their attorneys have advised them against it.
Utah County Sheriff James Tracy said last week that the two remain persons of interest in the case, despite the arrest and charging of the other suspects.
Lewis said following Wednesday's proceedings that Roger Mortensen is "very excited, very happy, obviously" to be reunited with his family.
The federal indictment accuses Mortensen and 26-year-old William Robert Lemieux of possessing a Vector Arms Uzi-type 9 mm machine gun that Utah County authorities allege was stolen from Kay Mortensen's gun collection after his murder.
Mortensen, whose criminal history includes theft by receiving stolen property and threatening to use a gun during a fight, among other charges, was also indicted on being a felon in possession of firearms.
As part of his release, Mortensen must report to a probation officer regularly, undergo a mental health evaluation and receive mental health services, and maintain residence at his home in Payson. He must also surrender his passport and may not handle firearms.
Attorneys discussed placing Mortensen in veterans' court for his pre-trial supervision a specialty court that addresses issues specific to veterans who have been charged with crimes. Lewis said that Mortensen, who is a veteran, has mental health issues that need to be addressed, and she is optimistic for a "favorable" outcome in his federal case.
Darla Mortensen said she's relieved her son and daughter-in-law are out of jail.
"I'm just grateful Pam and Roger are not involved with it," she said. "Now we'll move forward. It's just like starting over again."
Mortensens told of robbery gone bad
Roger and Pamela Mortensen originally told investigators that they went to Kay Mortensen's home the night of his Nov. 16, 2009, murder to play board games.
The couple told police there was a knock on the door, and two or three men entered the home with pistols. In a 911 call, Pamela Mortensen said they had been tied up and broke loose before calling for help. Roger Mortensen then spoke to the 911 dispatcher and said his father was leaning over the bathtub with his throat cut. The couple claimed the robbers killed Kay Mortensen and stole some of his guns.
The day after the murder, detectives announced a description of the alleged robbers and their car. Then, in January, sheriff's detectives said they no longer believed there was a robbery. They said Roger and Pam Mortensen were considered persons of interest, after the two allegedly changed their stories.
A Utah County grand jury indicted the Mortensens on first-degree felony murder and third-degree felony obstruction-of-justice charges in July. Those charges were dropped last week, when authorities announced a tip had led them to Vernal, where they arrested the people they now believe are responsible for Mortensen's murder: Martin Cameron Bond and Benjamin David Rettig, both 23.
Mortensen's widow, Darla, has said that Bond's father knew her husband and that Bond had previously been to the Mortensen home. Bond likely knew of Mortensen's guns, which are estimated to be worth up to $30,000.