Trial begins Monday for man accused of killing Deputy Josie Fox
Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker sees the marker every day as he drives from to work along U.S. Highway 50.
Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox.
"I think about her every day," the sheriff says.
It's been more than 2 1/2 years since Fox was gunned down in the dark of a January morning near Delta, not far from where the marker now stands. She is the only female peace officer ever to die on the job in Utah.
On Monday, Dekker and others from the central Utah community will fill a 4th District courtroom in Spanish Fork, as the trial for the man police and prosecutors say pulled the trigger begins. It's the first time in 17 years a Utah defendant has gone on trial accused of murdering a peace officer.
Even before a jury has been picked, the defense for 40-year-old Roberto Miramontes RomÃ¡n has already achieved a victory of sorts. After months of arguments and evaluations, Judge Donald Eyre ruled last month that RomÃ¡n's IQ was below 70. That, by legal definition, means RomÃ¡n is mentally retarded and prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty.
If convicted of the first-degree felony murder charge, RomÃ¡n faces possible sentences of 20 years to life or life without parole. No longer a death penalty case, the sentence would be decided by a judge, not a jury.
Defense attorney Stephen McCaughey would not discuss the specifics of his strategy going into trial, other than RomÃ¡n claims he did not kill the 40-year-old Fox.
"He says he's innocent," McCaughey said.
According to testimony and court documents, RomÃ¡n and Fox's brother, Ryan Greathouse, met in separate cars, on a dirt road in central Utah, shortly after midnight on Jan. 5, 2010. During the meeting, Greathouse Â who was found dead from an overdose in a Las Vegas hotel room just months later allegedly bought drugs from RomÃ¡n and then the two drove off in separate directions.
The sheriff's office has said it was watching the area after a rash of trailer thefts, and the rendezvous drew suspicion. A Millard County sheriff's sergeant followed Greathouse's car and ordered Fox to follow the 1995 gray Cadillac Deville allegedly driven by RomÃ¡n.
What prosecutors allege happened next comes from a confession they say Roman made to police.
When Fox stopped the car near Delta, just after 1 a.m., according to a detective's testimony, RomÃ¡n pointed the barrell of an AK-47 out his driver-side window and fired.
A bullet pierced Fox's protective vest.
RomÃ¡n fled north but crashed his car in a snowbank near Nephi, according to testimony. That's when a friend, Ruben Chavez-Reyes, said he picked the man up and drove him to Salt Lake City.
At a May 2011 parole hearing, Chavez-Reyes, who is serving a prison sentence for his role in the escape, said he believed RomÃ¡n had a doctor's appointment in Salt Lake. They drove to the home of RomÃ¡n's relatives. Chavez-Reyes said he spent part of the day playing video games.
Meanwhile, police had tracked RomÃ¡n's cell phone to Salt Lake City. A state trooper spotted an orange Corvette with the license plate that belonged to the Cadillac outside a home near 1100 West and 300 South.
During a door-to-door search of the area, Chavez-Reyes said he gave officers his name and was told to leave the area. At a gas station a few blocks away, Chavez-Reyes said he panicked after RomÃ¡n told him what had actually happened.
They left the car in Salt Lake City, took TRAX to Sandy, a bus to Provo and hired a car for $300 to drive them to Beaver, where they were arrested Jan. 6 sleeping in a tool shed, according to testimony.
Fox and RomÃ¡n grew up not far from each other in Millard County; Fox in Lynndyl and RomÃ¡n miles away in Delta, where his family settled after leaving Mexico more than 30 years ago.
In past interviews, RomÃ¡n's family has stood in support of the man, who began milking cows in Millard County's dairy farms at the age of 16.
By age 20, however, court records show RomÃ¡n had turned to drugs.
At first, he was convicted of marijuana possession. Then in August 1996, police found cocaine and a 9mm handgun within reach as he drove a van.
He was sentenced to prison and released in September 1998 to be deported to Mexico. He was caught in 2005 trying to re-enter the U.S. in Arizona.
Shortly after that, his family has said, he returned to Millard County to work at a dairy farm.
In hearings earlier this year, a psychiatrist called RomÃ¡n "the odd man out" in his family, and said early alcohol and drug use may have damaged his brain. Doctors said RomÃ¡n struggled with impulse control and decision making. When he was younger, he would walk in front of trucks "and thought he had superhuman abilities" to make them stop, they said.
Fox, too, had troubles with drugs.
In a 2010 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Cindy Greathouse said her daughter skipped classes at Delta High School, experimented with marijuana and methamphetamine before getting pregnant as a teenager.
But out of her own struggles, Fox found new purpose.
In 2005, she set out to become a Millard County sheriff's deputy. She went through Peace Officer Standards and Training, finishing in the same class as Jared Francom, a member of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force who was killed in a shootout while serving a search warrant earlier this year.
When the sheriff and his deputies arrive at the courthouse Monday, they will not be allowed to wear their uniforms, as part of a court order aimed at limiting prejudice.
A small sacrifice, Dekker said.
"We want to do whatever the court needs us to do so we don't have a mistrial," he said. "This is good to get to this point, to take it to trial and get past it."
About the murder trial
• Besides first-degree felony murder, RomÃ¡n is charged with two other counts: tampering with evidence and possession of a weapon by a restricted person. RomÃ¡n faces possible sentences of 20 years to life or life without parole for the murder count. The other two counts each carry up to five years in prison.
• While the shooting occurred in Millard County, the trial will be held in the Utah County town of Spanish Fork. The defense asked for the move due to concerns about being able to get a fair trial in Millard County.
• RomÃ¡n's friend, Ruben Chavez-Reyes, was convicted of crimes related to helping Roman after the shooting. He was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and is scheduled for a parole hearing in 2017.
• RomÃ¡n will be defended by Stephen McCaughey and Jeremy Delicino. Prosecutors will be Millard County Attorney Patrick Finlinson and Deputy Utah Attorney General Pat Nolan.
• The trial is scheduled to last two weeks.
• The last such trial in Utah was in 1995, when an Emery County jury convicted Jason Scott Pearson of shooting and killing Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Dennis Lund during a 24-mile chase along Interstate 70 two years earlier. A judge sentenced Pearson to life with the possibility of parole.