Murder charges filed in Utah officer's death

AP News
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Posted: Jan 13, 2012 9:02 PM
Murder charges filed in Utah officer's death

The suspect in a deadly shootout with Utah police used a semi-automatic pistol to methodically gun down six officers from a narcotics strike force inside his house, according to charges filed Friday that could bring the death penalty.

Matthew David Stewart, a 37-year-old Army veteran suspected of growing marijuana, told an acquaintance last summer that if police ever raided his Ogden house he would "go out in a blaze of glory and shoot to kill," a Weber County investigator wrote in an affidavit for his arrest.

Prosecutors say Stewart shot and killed Jared Francom of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Task Force during the Jan. 4 raid at Stewart's house in a quiet neighborhood across the street from a Mormon meeting house.

Francom, 30, was shot six times, according to court papers. He was buried Wednesday after a public funeral.

On Friday, prosecutors charged Stewart with capital murder, marijuana cultivation and seven attempted aggravated murder charges. The charges were enhanced by a dangerous weapons count.

Weber County prosecutors also filed notice that they will seek the death penalty if Stewart is convicted.

Stewart's lawyer, Randy Richards, didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press.

Stewart was cornered in a backyard shed and shot by police, but it wasn't clear Friday if he had been released from a hospital or booked into jail. Prosecutors had said they would wait for doctors to clear Stewart for release before arresting him.

Police say Stewart failed to answer a knock on his door and waited for officers to enter his house before opening fire "from a concealed position at close range with a Beretta 9 mm semi-automatic pistol."

Two of the officers from the narcotics strike force remain hospitalized in fair condition. Three others have been released.

The day after the shooting, police say they retrieved "multiple" pot plants, special lighting and a water system from Stewart's house, which under Utah law is covered by a drug-free zone because of the neighboring church building.

The affidavit doesn't fix Stewart's position when he opened fire, but says police had cleared his basement and the main level before he started firing.

Ogden Officer Shawn Grogan was shot first, in the face, and fell to the floor. As other officers came to Grogan's aid, Stewart continued to fire repeatedly, striking Officer Kasey Burrell at least twice and mortally wounding Francom, according to the arrest warrant.

Weber County Sheriff's Sgt. Nate Hutchinson was shot several times as he tried to help the wounded officers. The next officer to get hit by a bullet was Roy Police Officer Jason VanderWarf, in the hip, according to prosecutors' chronology.

A sixth officer, Michael Rounkles, was shot twice after responding to the gunfight and entering the house.

Rounkles remains at an Ogden hospital, where he was initially listed in critical condition. He made an improvement only to slip back to serious condition Thursday _ the first such reversal for one of the wounded officers. By Friday he was listed in fair condition.

Burrell also remains hospitalized in fair condition.

As officers retreated from the house, Stewart moved to the front door and kept shooting "at the already wounded agents and fellow agents who were trying to evacuate," according to the arrest warrant.

From the front door, Stewart could clearly see marked police cruisers with their emergency lights activated, prosecutors said.

When police returned fire, Stewart fled through a rear bedroom window. He hid in a backyard shed, where police say he continued firing, nearly hitting another police officer. It was at that point that Stewart was finally shot and taken into custody, prosecutors said.

It wasn't clear from the official account how many times Stewart is said to have fired or whether he had to stop to reload his weapon. The manufacturer of Beretta pistols has reconfigured the gun to hold fewer than the factory standard 15 rounds to comply with laws in different states _ some states restrict magazines to no more than 10 bullets.

However, other manufacturers produce larger magazines holding 18 or 20 rounds.