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Hacking appears in court; prelim hearing set

Published August 17, 2004 12:19 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Wearing a bulletproof vest and flanked by seven bailiffs, Mark Douglas Hacking came to court for the first time Monday but did not speak as his preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 23.

Hacking, 28, is charged with first-degree felony murder for allegedly killing his wife, 27-year-old Lori Hacking.

In an interview after court, defense attorney D. Gilbert Athay said there will be no quick resolution of Hacking's murder case.

"In all cases, plea bargains are something that are talked about, but we're certainly not in that position right now," Athay said.

"That decision will be made after a complete and full review of the discovery" evidence assembled by prosecutors, he said. "I don't even have it all, and probably won't for another three weeks.

"Until all the discovery has been examined, it's totally improper to be talking about plea negotiations."

Athay said he is also trying to find out as much about Hacking as possible.

"We need to know - from the time he was a little boy until today - everything about him," Athay said. "Who is this guy? What is he all about?"

Of particular interest to Athay is a head injury Hacking suffered earlier in his 20s, during a fall while working on a roof, because evidence of brain damage could support an argument for reduced charges.

After the hearing before 3rd District Judge William Barrett, prosecutor Robert Stott told news reporters he and Athay were not discussing a plea. "The only thing we've negotiated about was the preliminary hearing date," he said.

The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is probable cause to believe a crime occurred and that the defendant committed it.

According to charging documents - which rely heavily upon Hacking's confession to his brothers - Hacking shot his wife in the head as she slept in their Salt Lake City apartment on July 19. Hacking allegedly disposed of her body in a Dumpster, which was picked up that morning by a trash hauler and dumped at the Salt Lake County Landfill.

Police planned to continue to search the landfill for Lori Hacking's body Monday night, the 15th day that cadaver dogs and police officers have scoured the 2-plus acres of garbage that were cordoned off July 20. The search will be discontinued until Friday, primarily to allow the dogs to rest.

Prosecutors believe Hacking killed his wife because she had discovered his numerous lies, including false claims that he had graduated from the University of Utah and been accepted to a North Carolina medical school.

Hacking's use of a bulletproof vest during his court appearance Monday was unusual, said defense attorney Stephen McCaughey, who has represented several people charged with capital murder. "I've never had a defendant brought to court in a bulletproof vest," he said.

But Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Rosie Rivera called it "standard procedure" in a high-profile case where the defendant is also in protective custody at the maximum-security area of the jail.

Inmates are placed in protective custody when they are perceived to be a danger to themselves or could be targeted by other inmates because of intense media coverage.

"They are in their own cell and are let out one hour per day to take care of their business - shower or make phone calls. And when they go to court appearances, medical appointments or anything else, they wear bulletproof vests," Rivera said.

She acknowledged there have been few cases requiring such extreme precautions. "But this [Hacking] was a murder case that went nationwide," she said.

Athay said he knew of no specific threats against Hacking's life, but said the vest was "probably a smart thing."

Hacking showed no expression Monday. But while coming and going from the courtroom, he scanned the gallery, apparently looking for a familiar face. No members of his family attended the hearing.

Athay said he met with Hacking late last week, as well as before court Monday "to prepare him. He's never been in a courtroom before in his life, except on video" for an arraignment last week.

Athay added: "Under the circumstances, he's doing very well." He said they had not discussed the Saturday memorial service for Lori Hacking, but said Hacking has some television access and may have seen news coverage.

Athay said he will not be asking for a reduction in Hacking's $1 million, cash-only bail. "In a case like this, you're wasting your time," he said.