Nearly two years after he was sentenced to spend at least 25 years behind bars for the brutal murder of a Brigham Young University professor, Benjamin Rettig’s right to appeal the sentence is being reinstated.
In April, Rettig asked 4th District Judge Thomas Low to reinstate his appeal rights, according to court records, claiming that he was not advised of his right to appeal the sentence of 25 years to life in prison before the time limit for an appeal expired. He said in his handwritten motion that his previous bid to the Utah Court of Appeals was denied because it was filed too late, which he blamed on his attorney.
On Tuesday, Low — the judge who handed down the prison sentence to Rettig in December 2011 — ruled that Rettig was deprived of his right to appeal, finding that Rettig did attempt to invoke his appeal right on Jan. 6, which was a week before the time limit expired. However, his request was not officially filed with the court until after that 30-day window had ended.
Rettig will now have 30 days to file an appeal with the Utah Court of Appeals. The basis for his proposed appeal has not been discussed in district court documents.
Rettig accepted a plea deal in June 2011 and pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and aggravated kidnapping for the 2009 slaying of Kay Mortensen. As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for life with the possibility of parole.
Rettig is asking to appeal only his sentencing, so if he wins the appeal, he will not change his plea, but rather, would be re-sentenced. But if he is re-sentenced, prosecutors could ask for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, since Rettig failed to hold up his end of the plea agreement when he refused to testify against codefendant Martin Cameron Bond at Bond’s trial.
In January, a jury found Bond, 26, guilty of aggravated murder, three counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count each of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery. Low sentenced Bond to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
According to court documents, Rettig and Bond broke into Mortensen’s Payson Canyon home the night of Nov. 16, 2009, to steal the man’s extensive gun collection. During the burglary, Rettig trained a handgun on Mortensen as Bond slashed the 70-year-old man’s throat with a knife, prosecutors said.
Rettig also helped tie up Mortensen’s son and daughter-in-law, Roger and Pamela Mortensen, who happened to come to the house during the burglary.
The couple spent roughly eight months in jail facing murder charges for the slaying before a tipster led police to Bond and Rettig.
Rettig was recently charged with obstruction of justice for refusing to testify at Bond’s trial. He will appear in court on Sept. 26 for a scheduling hearing in that case.