A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from the son and daughter-in-law of a murdered former Brigham Young University professor who claim officers wrongly implicated them.
Roger and Pam Mortensen were once accused of killing Roger Mortensen's father, Kay Mortensen, on Nov. 16, 2009, in his home near Payson. They were released after two others were arrested for the murder. Last October, the Mortensens filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Utah County, alleging sheriff's detectives gave false testimony and omitted exculpatory information to a grand jury to obtain the murder indictment against them.
But last April, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in a separate case that grand jury witnesses have absolute immunity from claims based on the testimony of witnesses, since they should have the same immunity that a witness would at trial.
"They can basically lie to a grand jury," said Robert Sykes, the Mortensens' attorney. "It totally undermined our whole case. We looked for ways to get around it, but there's nothing left."
Witnesses who mislead a grand jury can still face perjury charges, but the Supreme Court decision removed liability in civil matters, Sykes said.
When the defense asked that the judge dismiss the case, Sykes decided they had no longer had the legal ground to fight the dismissal. So in a ruling on Monday, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball dismissed the case.
"It's tragic as can be. They were really damaged," Sykes said.
The Mortensens spent about five months in jail after a grand jury indicted them of murder, until a witness stepped forward and implicated two men from the Vernal area. Prosecutors dismissed the indictment against the Mortensens and filed murder and other charges against Martin Cameron Bond, 25, and Benjamin David Rettig, 24.
The couple argued that the indictment and incarceration hurt their finances, employment and relationships with friends and family. Sykes said some people still believe the couple murdered Kay Mortensen, even though Rettig was convicted and Bond's trial is pending.
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.
The sheriff's office, 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."
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.