Two men arrested last week in connection with a fatal shooting in Orem made initial appearances in court Wednesday morning.
Mason Eric French and Travis Waldron, both 24, were both charged Tuesday with first-degree felony murder, second-degree felony obstruction of justice and third-degree felony use of a firearm by a restricted person. Waldron is also charged with a second count of use of a firearm by a restricted person.
The homicide — a case that initially appeared to be a fatal car crash — was sparked by the victim’s failure to pay a drug debt, according to documents filed in 4th District Court.
Police believe French was the triggerman in the Nov. 19 shooting that killed 42-year-old Rupert E. Miley.
On Tuesday, Judge James Taylor appointed public defenders for both men, who were ordered to return to court on Dec. 10 for scheduling hearings.
Both men are being held at the Utah County jail. French’s bail is set at $1 million cash-only, while Waldron is being held at the jail without bail.
Orem police at first thought Miley died from injuries suffered in a car crash at 3:15 a.m. Nov. 19 near 200 East and 800 North.
But based on a bullet hole in the back of the driver’s seat and Miley’s profuse bleeding, investigators quickly discovered he had been shot in the back.
An accident scene that extended for several blocks — including the destruction of a light pole, several trees, road signs and a fire hydrant — resulted from Miley’s efforts to drive himself to a hospital, according to court documents obtained last week.
French was found lying on the roadway at the scene, and was taken into custody after he provided details to police that did not match evidence at the scene. A revolver was found at the scene of the crash, according to police.
Officers later arrested Waldron, who allegedly jumped from the car and fled after the shooting.
Waldron’s girlfriend told police that early Tuesday morning, Waldron and French, who were intoxicated, became upset at Miley over “an illegal drug debt,” according to court documents.
The girlfriend said the two men left her home at about 2 a.m., but they returned sometime later to get a .357-caliber handgun and left again on foot at about 3 a.m.
A woman who lived with Miley later told police that two men matching the suspects’ descriptions came to her home at about 2:30 a.m., demanding to see Miley.
The woman said she refused to let Miley go outside, and that the two suspects left after she threatened to call police.
But Miley left the home about 15 minutes later, and never returned, the woman told police.
Waldron later told police that after trading angry text messages with Miley over the drug debt, they met in a grocery store parking lot where, according to Waldron, the drug debt was seemingly resolved.
Waldron, who claimed he did not know French had a gun, said all three then got into Miley’s car, according to court documents.
Waldron said French must have pulled out the gun and it went off, shooting Miley in the back. When Miley started driving to a hospital, Waldron said he jumped from the car and fled to a friend’s home. Waldron told police they would find his fingerprints on the gun because he had handled it a week earlier.
But the girlfriend said Waldron told her a different story.
She told police she got a phone call from Waldron at about 3:30 a.m., asking her to meet him. The woman said Waldron then told her that during an argument in the store parking lot he had pointed a gun at Miley’s head.
The woman said that Waldron told her he later handed the gun to French, in the backseat of the car, and that soon afterward the gun went off, sending a bullet through the seat into Miley’s back, according to court documents.
French, who suffered minor injuries in the crash, declined to give a statement to police, saying he first wanted to speak to an attorney.