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An outspoken 3rd District judge announced his retirement Thursday, after serving 15 years on the bench.

Michael Hutchings, 44, will shed his robes by Dec. 7 to practice law, develop real estate and support crime-reduction programs, according to a letter sent to Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Howe.

``I intend to lend my voice and my support to the implementation of policies that will reduce crime and victimization in our community,'' Hutchings states.

Two years ago, in his treatise Another Vietnam: Salt Lake's War On Crime, Hutchings broke with judicial tradition by claiming the community was not tough enough on criminals.

Police applauded, but he was criticized by Latinos for describing the ``typical drug dealer'' in Salt Lake as an illegal immigrant from Mexico. (Hutchings had cited jail records indicating 80 percent of those arrested for drug crimes in Salt Lake County were illegal immigrants.)

Unperturbed, Hutchings co-authored, with University of Utah professor Gerald Smith, a compilation of statistics purportedly indicating Utah would be leading the nation in total crime per capita by 2002, if crime trends continue.

Hutchings was called an alarmist by some. But Sen. Orrin Hatch and state authorities followed up by holding a Utah Crime Summit in July 1997, attended by U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno. Reno promised more FBI and drug and immigration agents, and said Utah could be the site of a new 1,100-bed federal prison. ``People listened and responded. There has been improvement,'' Hutchings said. ``But we definitely still have problems.''

Utah is second-highest in the nation for theft and has the nation's smallest prison system, which is bursting at its seams, the judge said. He also lamented the lack of adequate drug- and alcohol-treatment programs, claiming the majority of criminals are ``good people'' with substance-abuse problems.

The judge, who was appointed to the bench in July 1983 by Gov. Scott Matheson, plans to join the Sandy law firm of Holman and Walker.

Among Hutchings' more memorable cases were preliminary hearings for capital homicide suspects Sam Kastanis and Michael DeCorso, he recalled.

Kastanis, charged with the murders of his wife and three children at their West Jordan home in 1991, was acquitted by a jury. DeCorso was found guilty of the 1994 robbery and murder of a West Jordan shoe-store manager and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Hutchings also presided over a 1991 preliminary hearing that has had far-reaching legal ramifications.

Charged with the August 1990 murder of his girlfriend, Donald Jaeger claimed she had committed suicide at their Salt Lake County home.

At Jaeger's preliminary hearing, prosecutors presented results of gunshot-residue tests showing there were telltale particles on his hands from firing a weapon. There were no such particles on the hands of victim Mary Barndt.

The defense argued Jaeger could have picked up the particles at the battery and alternator shop where he worked. Hutchings dismissed the murder charge, saying the evidence was contradictory, and case was weak and circumstantial.

But in 1995, the Utah Court of Appeals overturned Hutchings' decision, saying he had overreached by ``deciding questions arising from credible, but conflicting, evidence'' that should be left to a trial judge or jury. Jaeger was convicted of murder by a jury in 1997 and sent to prison for up to life.

The so-called Jaeger decision has changed the complexion of preliminary hearings by preventing judges from weighing evidence and witness credibility at preliminary hearings. Defense attorneys, and even some judges, have said the ruling practically guarantees that defendants will be bound over for trial.

Defense attorney Ronald Yengich was before the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing the Jaeger decision should be overturned. Yengich represents Glenna Talbot, charged with murdering her 3-year-old niece in 1995.

Following a 1996 preliminary hearing, Judge Dennis Fuchs ordered Talbot to stand trial. But Fuchs said that without the Jaeger ruling, he would ``seriously consider not binding the case over'' for trial.

Michael Hutchings