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Is the case against Swallow and Shurtleff solid?
Justice » Credibility of witnesses, many of whom have been accused or convicted of crimes, is a key issue.

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But the witness sword can cut both ways.

Putting people of questionable character on the stand is always risky, experts said. It gives defense attorneys ample ammunition in calling their credibility into question.

At a glance

Shurtleff, Swallow in court

Former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is scheduled to make his first appearance in 3rd District Court on July 30 at 8:30 a.m.

Shurtleff, who served 12 years as Utah’s top law-enforcement officer, was charged this week with 10 felonies.

His handpicked successor, former Utah Attorney General John Swallow, is scheduled to make his first appearance in the same court Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. on 11 felony and two misdemeanor counts.

Both men have proclaimed their innocence. They are accused of receiving or soliciting bribes, accepting gifts, tampering with evidence, and participating in a pattern of unlawful conduct.

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"Credibility is a huge issue at trial, and whether witnesses can be believed is certainly something prosecutors will worry about," Morgan said. "But you never use anyone who has been identified as a liar unless you have corroborating evidence to corroborate what they say. I would hope, in this case, prosecutors had the foresight to build their case on more than the word of convicted fraudsters."

That, he said, is where all that hard evidence — emails, text messages, receipts, recordings — kicks in.

Gill and his investigative partner, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, declined Wednesday to dive into the specifics of their ongoing investigation, but the two prosecutors have expressed confidence in their case against Shurtleff and Swallow.

But, Sims and Morgan said, even in strong cases, jury trials can pose perils prosecutors may try to avoid.

Could there be plea deals? It was unclear Wednesday whether such negotiations would emerge, given the defendants’ insistence of their absolute innocence.

Swallow and Shurtleff, both of whom were booked and released from jail Tuesday, have repeatedly proclaimed that they did nothing wrong and insist they are being prosecuted for political purposes.

Swallow, who walked directly toward a crowd of television crews and reporters upon his release from jail Tuesday, said he looks forward to "my day in court to confront my accusers and to share my side of the story for, really, the first time."

Hours later, his attorney Stephen McCaughey said he expects the case to go to trial.

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"He’s maintained his innocence from day one," McCaughey said. "I don’t anticipate us doing any plea bargaining."

So Utahns may have to wait through months of legal tussles to find out if the case of "The State of Utah vs. John Edward Swallow and Mark Leonard Shurtleff" stands or crumbles.


Twitter: @marissa_jae

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