Hearing to decide if Utah police shootout suspect goes to trial
The details of the gunfire and chaos that erupted on a quiet Ogden street one night in January will finally see the light of a courtroom.
With the preliminary hearing for Matthew David Stewart beginning Wednesday, Weber County prosecutors will for the first time present evidence of the shootout that killed Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force Agent Jared Francom and wounded five other officers.
Those injured officers are among about a dozen people who have been subpoenaed to testify this week in 2nd District Court. The hearing is scheduled to last three days.
But Stewart's family said the hearing also represents the first chance to help vindicate a man they have called a "prisoner of the war on drugs."
"It's going to be a complex case," Stewart's sister-in-law, Erna Stewart, said Friday. "But some of the details are going to be coming out and I'm excited for that."
Stewart's attorney, Randall Richards, has said he plans to challenge most of the charges against his client. But Erna Stewart said she is not expecting charges to be dismissed.
At a preliminary hearing, prosecutors must show there is enough evidence for a case to proceed. The burden of proof is substantially lighter than it would be at trial, and Judge Noel Hyde is required to view the evidence in the most favorable way for the state.
"If enough information got out to where Matt [had his charges dropped], it would be awesome," Erna Stewart said. "But realistically, it's a high-profile case. I don't think that's going to happen."
Police and prosecutors allege Matthew Stewart was growing marijuana inside his home at 3268 Jackson Ave. in Ogden, when the strike force served a search warrant there on Jan. 4.
A few details of the ensuing shootout have been made available through police reports, court documents and a jailhouse interview Matthew Stewart gave The Salt Lake Tribune. But the prosecution and Stewart supporters have made only passing statements about a key issue in the case: Whether police properly announced their presence so Stewart should have known who they were.
Prosecutors have said strike force members repeatedly knocked and announced themselves. When no one answered and officers entered the home, court and police documents have claimed, Stewart was hiding then emerged firing a pistol. Stewart has claimed that he thought a group of men had broken into his home to rob and to murder him.
Wounded officers Shawn Grogan, Michael Rounkles, Kasey Burrell and Nate Hutchinson have all been subpoenaed, according to court records. Court records do not show that Roy Officer James VanderWarf, who was shot in the right hip, has been subpoenaed.
Weber-Morgan Strike Force agent Derek Draper, who also exchanged gunfire in the shootout, and Sgt. Troy Burnett as well as Ogden police Officer Tyler Crouch also has been subpoenaed.
Stewart's ex-girlfriend, Stacy Wilson, also has received a subpoena. Wilson , after a bad breakup, reportedly tipped police off to the marijuana police said they found in his house.
Stewart is charged with aggravated murder and eight other felony counts relating to the shooting and marijuana cultivation. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
During a February interview at the Weber County Jail, Stewart told The Tribune he believed two bullets struck him during the shootout, and that one bullet seemed to have struck his right hip and then entered his abdomen.
Erna Stewart said her brother-in-law is "healing quite well."