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Spanish Fork » In a case that was unusual from the start, prosecutors used a rare tactic to bring charges against the son and daughter-in-law of a retired Brigham Young University who was murdered in November.
A Utah County grand jury on Thursday indicted Roger K. and Pamela Ann Mortensen with first-degree felony murder and third-degree felony obstruction of justice.
They are accused of murdering 70-year-old Kay Mortensen on Nov. 16 at his home in Payson.
Roger and Pamela Mortensen's attorney, Greg Skordas, said Friday the couple maintain their innocence and stand by their original explanation that robbers killed Kay Mortensen.
"We found out the grand jury had issued the indictment when the cops showed up at their door," Skordas said.
Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said Roger, 48, and Pamela Mortensen, 34, have given inconsistent statements since the murder occurred.
Roger Mortensen "has never shown any interest in the case and has never come in [for an interview] when invited," Tracy said.
Detectives also executed a search warrant Thursday night when they arrested the Mortensens at their home in Payson. Tracy said detectives found guns in the home and were trying to determine whether any of them are the weapons missing from Kay Mortensen's home. Roger Mortensen is not allowed to have guns because of previous convictions, Tracy said, and he may receive additional charges. Also, Tracy said, detectives found a small amount of marijuana in Roger Mortensen's car.
Kay Mortensen was a retired engineering professor who had recently finished an LDS Church mission with his wife. The story told by his son and daughter-in-law defied the odds, too.
Roger and Pamela Mortensen said they went to Kay Mortensen's secluded home outside of Payson to play some Monday night board games. Kay Mortensen's wife was not at home.
Roger and Pamela Mortensen said 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 911. Roger Mortensen then spoke to the 911 dispatcher and said his father was leaning over the bathtub with his throat slit. The couple claimed the robbers killed Kay Mortensen and stole some of his guns.
The next day, 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.
"We believe the evidence will show Pamela and Roger were involved," Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said Friday at a news conference at the sheriff's office in Spanish Fork.
who did not release any new information about the murder -- said a grand jury was used because the case is an ongoing investigation.
The last time a state grand jury was used in Utah County was in a 2003 or 2004 rape case, Buhman said. The last publicized indictment by a state grand jury was in 2004 to charge Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.
In Utah, prosecutors typically charge someone with a crime by filing a charging document. The prosecution then has to prove to a judge during a preliminary hearing there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. The defendant can argue there is not enough evidence and ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
By empaneling a grand jury to gain an indictment, a defendant loses that chance to challenge the evidence before trial.
University of Utah law professor Daniel Medwed said, in general, that a grand jury might help a prosecutor who isn't sure whether a judge would allow a trial. Also, Medwed said, it can save witnesses from having to testify before trial.
"If you want to keep things secret and not show all of your cards to the defense and the public right away, you can go to the grand jury," Medwed said.
Roger and Pamela Mortensen are being held in lieu of $500,000 bail at the Utah County jail. Their first court appearance is set for Monday in Provo.