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Homicides down in Utah, despite growing population

Published January 2, 2013 9:44 pm

Crime • Tally down slightly from 2011, when there were 52 victims, even as Utah's population continued to grow.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Firefighters who rushed to Ralph Salazar's home on Dec. 14 found more than a smoldering structure: Inside the bedroom were the bodies of Salazar, 59, and Alice Griego, 55, who police believe were shot before the fire was set.

Their deaths were among the 49 homicides in Utah in 2012.

That tally is down slightly from 2011, when there were 52 homicide victims, even as Utah's population continued to grow. By comparison, in 2010 there were 45 murders, and 43 in 2009. Those totals do not include people whose deaths resulted from justified use of police force.

"You do like to see [homicides] go down," said Unified Police detective Ken Hansen. "It's just like with traffic fatalities — zero would be the best number to have. But [sometimes] it's just out of our control."

Unique among this year's deaths was that of Jared Francom, the first homicide of 2012. Francom, an Ogden police officer who was shot Jan. 4 while serving a drug warrant on the home of Matthew David Stewart, is the only active-duty officer among the victims.

While the Unified Police Department is still looking for who killed Salazar and Griego, Salt Lake City police have yet to announce a suspect in the murder of Alfred Montoya, 62, who got into a fight on Oct. 18 at a gas station and died a short time later. No arrests have been made in the case, which is still under investigation.

The average age of this year's known homicide victims was 36. Most were men, by a margin of 30 to 15.

The youngest victim was 5-year-old Eliza Kate Parker. She and her mother, Adria Parker, died on March 22 after Parker's boyfriend shot them both in their Washington County home before turning the gun on himself.

The oldest victim was also killed at home — 86-year-old Joyce Dexter. Police arrested Dexter's 21-year-old grandson, Zachary Cole Weston, who lived in her Salt Lake City home, after he was found near her body on Oct. 3 with bloody clothes and holding a bloody knife, according to court documents.

The Parkers and Dexter died from the two most common causes of murder in 2012: About 60 percent of the homicide victims this year were shot while another 25 percent were stabbed; the remaining victims were punched, beaten or died by another means.

In addition to the 45 homicides, six people died in police officer-involved shootings. Five of those have been ruled as justified use of police force. The Nov. 2 shooting of Danielle Willard, 21, in West Valley City remains under investigation. That number is also down from last year, when nine people died in officer-involved shootings, and from the 12 in 2010 (including one execution).

Domestic violence-related homicides declined, too. This year, 18 people were the victims of domestic violence-related homicide, down from last year's 24 and the 19 in 2010, totals tallied in a year-end report by the Utah Domestic Violence Council.

While tallies are useful for demonstrating the scope of a public safety problem, they can fail to represent the many more people — children and other loved ones — who are affected by each death, said Peg Coleman, executive director of the council. The council plans to release its annual count on Jan. 2 in a bid to provoke discussion about the impact of those deaths and a lack of funding for shelters and non-profits that exist to stop the most preventable type of homicide, Coleman said.

"This is alarming. It's a public safety issue. It's not just a family issue," she said.

Of the 2012 homicides, four were ruled self-defense and never prosecuted.

On Jan. 24, 42-year-old doll maker Kerry Brown died after falling and hitting his head after being punched. South Salt Lake investigators determined Brown had been the aggressor, and no charges were filed. Then on March 1, Armando Martinez Jr., 31, died while burglarizing a Springville couple in their home after the homeowner grabbed his handgun from the closet and shot Martinez. The Utah County Attorney ruled the shooting was justified.

Prosecutors also declined to file charges in the May 4 death of Ryan Patrick, who was stabbed during a fight in Price. In that case, Patrick's assailant also was deemed to be acting in self defense. And the man who shot Brendan Saunders, 41, onJune 30, wasn't prosecuted. The shooter was visiting Saunders' ex-wife when Saunders kicked down the door and rushed toward the man. That shooting was ruled self defense.

There were no instances of justified self-defense killings by civilians in 2011; police and prosecutors deemed two such killings justified in 2010, while three were justified in 2009.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda