Murdered BYU prof's family sues over wrongful indictment
The son and daughter-in-law of a murdered Brigham Young University professor, who were once accused of the slaying, have filed a civil rights lawsuit against Utah County, alleging police and prosecutors misled a grand jury.
Roger and Pam Mortensen say Utah County sheriff's detectives gave false testimony and omitted exculpatory information in obtaining the murder indictment in 4th District Court. The couple were accused of killing Roger Mortensen's father, Kay Mortensen, on Nov. 16, 2009, in his home near Payson.
A state grand jury indicted Roger and Pam Mortensen on a charge of murder in June 2010. They spent nearly five months in the Utah County jail until a witness stepped forward to implicate two men from the Vernal area.
"I believe because [police] had no evidence whatsoever, they were at a loss at what to do," Roger Mortensen said Monday at his lawyer's office, "and it was easier for them to blame us than to actually spend the time to look at who could be guilty."
Speaking to reporters Monday, the couple said the indictment and incarceration hurt their finances, employment and relationships with friends of family some of whom still believe the couple murdered Kay Mortensen.
"I was taught that the police are your friend, that you are innocent until proven guilty, that police are there to protect and serve," Pam Mortensen said. "Our experience was exactly the opposite."
In a written statement, the Utah County Attorney's Office did not directly address the Mortensens' accusations, but defended itself and the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
"â¦the Sheriff's Office both before and after Roger and Pamela's indictment vigorously, thoroughly and professionally investigated all clues and leads regarding Mr. Mortensen's death, whether those leads pointed toward Roger and Pamela or toward other persons," the statement said. "Similarly, the County Attorney's Office ethically, professionally and fairly presented to the grand jury evidence both favorable and damning to Roger and Pamela Mortensen."
The Mortensens' attorney, Bob Sykes, said prosecutors typically can't be sued for their mistakes. However, Sykes said, there are state and federal laws against misleading a grand jury.
Among the accusations the Mortensens are making about the detectives' testimony:
• Detectives told the grand jury the couple gave only vague descriptions of the suspects and their car. But the lawsuit says a police report shows the Mortensens provided a gender, race, age, and body size that fairly described the two men later charged with the murder. The Mortensens gave four descriptors for the car.
• Detectives told the grand jury they couldn't find a man who entered Mountain View Hospital hours after the murder looking for someone whose throat had been slit. The lawsuit claims detectives did know the man's name. Although he was not one of the men eventually charged with the murder, the episode pointed to another possible suspect.
• The detectives exaggerated the extent of the Mortensens' financial troubles, including by saying the couple were behind on their mortgage when they were not.
• The grand jury did not hear about a brain injury which impacts Roger Mortensen's memory and emotional reactions, and instead, detectives claimed he did not react normally to his father's death.
Prosecutors dismissed the indictment against the Mortensens in November and filed murder and other charges against Martin Cameron Bond and Benjamin David Rettig.
Prosecutors and witnesses have described Rettig and Bond as murdering Mortensen, by slitting his throat, after they broke into his home to steal guns.
Roger and Pam Mortensen arrived at Kay Mortensen's home during the robbery. The robbers allegedly tied them up at gunpoint and then fled.
The Mortensens' lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. It names as defendants various Utah County sheriff's detectives and a deputy county attorney, but does not yet specify how much money the couple are seeking.
On Monday, the couple also complained about their treatment in the Utah County jail. Roger Mortensen said a jail guard once called him to a monitor and showed him footage of his wife in the jail's women's unit. Roger Mortensen said the guard told him that the guards watched her take showers.
Pam Mortensen said guards continued treating her like other inmates and insinuated she was guilty even in the few minutes after she was released from jail. But inmates supported her, and 90 of them clapped for her as she was released from the jail, she said.
"It was not the police who got to know me," Pam Mortensen said.
Pam Mortensen testified at Bond's preliminary hearing and said Monday she plans to continue cooperating with prosecutors.
As for the real suspects ...
Benjamin David Rettig, 23, has pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping but is seeking to withdraw that plea. Martin Cameron Bond, 24, has been ordered to stand trial.