Judge orders four Utahns accused of murdering man to trial
The last thing Cleat Knight saw before being shot in the back just outside a Weber County ski resort late last year was the open valley before him.
Knight and a friend had been bound and blindfolded, shoved into the back of a truck and guarded at gunpoint for hours as they were driven up Parleys Canyon to answer for allegedly stealing drugs and money from a dealer.
When the truck stopped, Andrew Beck testified at a preliminary hearing this week, he knew the two of them wouldn't make it out of there alive.
Beck was the one who did. Knight was shot in the back and left to die at the bottom of a ridge near Snowbasin ski resort.
On Wednesday, a 3rd District judge ordered three men accused of kidnapping and killing Knight to stand trial on a litany of charges related to the incident on Nov. 23, 2013.
Lawyers for a woman accused of orchestrating the murder and conspiring to commit the crimes have asked the judge to drop the case against her. A hearing on this has been set for August.
Christopher Leech, 35, and Villiamu Seumanu, 42, were ordered to stand trial Wednesday after two days of testimony and evidence about the night Knight disappeared.
Theron Myore, 42, who drove the men to the place where Knight's body was eventually discovered under nearly six feet of snow on Jan. 7, 2014, declined to hear the state's evidence against him and is expected to enter a plea deal with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
Myore testified Wednesday that he had no idea the night would end in gunfire. He said he didn't know Knight, and guessed the others didn't either.
Myore, who was charged with first-degree felony murder and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, is expected to plead guilty to a lesser count of manslaughter and one count of aggravated kidnapping in an arrangement with prosecutors that would mean a minimum of 8 years in prison rather than the possibility of up to life.
The other defendants will enter their pleas at an arraignment later this month.
Leech and Seumanu face a murder charge and two counts of aggravated kidnapping all first-degree felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison as well as one second-degree felony count of obstructing justice.
The case of Tina Soules, 41, was taken under advisement by the judge until prosecutors and defense attorneys have made their arguments on whether or not the woman should be prosecuted in this case.
Soules, who is the alleged drug dealer from whom Knight purportedly stole a rental car, cash and drugs, faces up to life in prison on charges of murder and two counts of aggravated kidnapping.
According to testimony, Soules had asked Beck to fetch some drugs for her to sell in a car she had rented. Beck, who was friends with Knight, said while he was in a hotel doing drugs with a friend, Knight made off with the car, the cash and the drugs he had stored in the trunk.
"She was upset I had let someone run off with her money," Beck said. "She was more upset with me for letting her stuff get carried off, for trusting someone else."
Myore and Soules drove around neighborhoods looking for the stolen car. Beck hung back at Soules's home on Mann Way (4100 West) in West Valley City and made phone calls, trying to reach Knight or someone who might know where he went.
Impatience grew as time dragged on.
Witnesses at the scene said they saw Leech and Myore with guns. But Myore testified he only took his handgun out because Leech had asked him to do so.
Throughout the preliminary hearing, Leech was made out to be both brain and brawn behind the killing.
Beck said Leech held him against his will, loaded him into the back of a truck, dug his knees into Beck's back as he tied his hands together with speaker wire.
Beck said Leech threatened him with a gun, ignored Soules and her sister as the women pleaded with him "don't do this," gave Myore directions as they drove up the canyon.
It was Leech who police believe shot Knight in the back as the man knelt on the muddy ground on that clear November night, cold and illuminated by the moon's glow.
Seumanu's wife, Dawnie Seumanu, who is also Soules's sister, testifying for the state Wednesday, said her husband went along with Leech because he, too, was afraid.
Myore said, after a certain point, they all were.
Leech, who declined to testify in his own defense as per the advice of his attorneys, did not call any witnesses this week. The bar of proof is much lower at preliminary hearings than at trial, where a jury must be convinced "beyond a reasonable doubt." It is unclear how the group managed to convince Knight to return.
When he arrived at a nearby apartment, where Beck was also taken, witnesses said, Leech ordered Knight and Beck to lie on the ground, tied the men's hands behind their backs and clasped the hood of their sweatshirts over their faces, so they couldn't see.
According to charging documents, Soules, Seumanu and Myore discussed how they were going to kill both Beck and Knight.
The men then set off for Weber County in Myore's truck. En route, officials said, "Knight pleaded for his life and asked them not to go through with their plans."
When they stopped near the Snowbasin resort, Beck and Knight were escorted about 100 yards from the truck and told to get down on their knees, according to testimony. Their blindfolds were removed, their hands cut free. In a flash of fire, Beck said, Leech shot Knight in the back.
The bullet, according to an autopsy, tore through his back, his chest and into his leg.
Beck tensed, waiting for another shot.
It never came.
Instead, he told the court, Leech stood him up and handed him a gun with one bullet in the chamber. He told him to shoot his friend if he wanted to live, Beck said.
"He told me, 'Finish it or you're next,' " Beck testified. "I didn't know what to do. I said, 'OK.' "
Leech, he said, had another gun pointed to the back of his head in case he "got any ideas." He fired the gun at close range, standing right above Knight.
The men took off, leaving Knight's body in the canyon, where it was discovered months later.
Beck, who has a lengthy history of crimes in Utah, was also charged with obstruction of justice in this case for lying to police. He told Judge James Blanch that he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a plea deal that may keep him from returning to prison.
Leech, Seumanu, Soules and Myore are all being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
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