American Fork • A Vernal man who held a retired BYU professor at gunpoint while another man slit his throat is asking to appeal his prison sentence.
Benjamin David Rettig, 25, had pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and aggravated kidnapping for the 2009 slaying of Kay Mortensen.
He was sentenced in December 2011 to 25 years to life in prison — a sentence that gives him the opportunity for parole when he is 49 years old.
But in April, Rettig asked 4th District Judge Thomas Low to reinstate his appeal rights, according to court records, claiming that he was not advised of his right to appeal the sentence before the time limit for an appeal expired. He said in his handwritten motion that his previous bid to the Utah Court of Appeals was denied because it was filed too late, which he blamed on his attorney.
But Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor said in a written response that Rettig’s rights were not violated since the plea-agreement documents that he signed on June 1, 2011, advised him that he had limited appeal rights and that any appeal had to be filed within 30 days. Taylor wrote that Rettig already received the most lenient sentencing possible for the crimes he pleaded guilty to, adding that it would not be rational to appeal the sentence.
Rettig made a brief appearance in court on Tuesday, where he was appointed a public defender to represent him in the case. He will appear in court again on July 30.
Outside of court, Taylor said he wasn’t clear on what Rettig hopes to achieve by appealing the sentence.
"For aggravated murder, he got the absolute best sentence he could get," Taylor said. "I think he really has a lot to lose, quite honestly."
Rettig is asking to appeal only his sentencing, so if he wins the appeal, he will not change his plea, but rather, would be re-sentenced. As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for life with the possibility of parole. But if he is re-sentenced, prosecutors could ask for life without the possibility of parole, since Rettig failed to hold up his end of the plea agreement when he refused to testify against co-defendant Martin Cameron Bond at Bond’s trial.
In January, a jury found Bond, 26, guilty of aggravated murder, three counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count each of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery. Low sentenced Bond to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
According to court documents, Rettig and Martin Cameron Bond broke into Mortensen’s Payson Canyon home the night of Nov. 16, 2009, to steal the man’s extensive weapons collection. During the burglary, Rettig trained a handgun on Mortensen as Bond retrieved a knife he used to slash the 70-year-old man’s throat, prosecutors said.
Rettig also helped tie up Mortensen’s son and daughter-in-law, Roger and Pamela Mortensen, who happened to come to the house during the burglary.
The couple spent roughly eight months in jail facing murder charges for the slaying before a tipster led police to Bond and Rettig.
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