Man charged with shooting and killing U. student may face the death penalty

Austin Boutain makes his first court appearance Tuesday.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Austin Boutain, charged with murder for fatally shooting University of Utah student ChenWei Guo at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon on Oct. 30, makes his first court appearance in Salt Lake City Tuesday November 21, 2017.

The couple charged in connection to the fatal shooting last month of a University of Utah student made their first court appearances Tuesday.

Austin and Kathleen Boutain appeared via a video feed from the Salt Lake County jail, their images displayed on a television screen set up in a 3rd District courtroom. Neither said much as Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills told them they each would be provided a public defender who would be with them during their next court date on Dec. 8.

Austin Boutain, 24, is charged first-degree felony aggravated murder, as well as attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery and 10 other felonies. He is accused of shooting and killing 23-year-old ChenWi Guo — a computer science major from China — and firing shots at Guo’s female passenger during a botched carjacking attempt in Red Butte Canyon on Oct. 30.

Austin Boutain could face the possibility of the death penalty, but prosecutors said Tuesday it is too early in the case to say whether they will seek the man’s execution.

Kathleen Boutain, 23, is charged with three counts of first-degree felony criminal solicitation and three counts of second-degree felony theft.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kathleen Boutain, charged with three counts of first-degree felony criminal solicitation and three counts of second-degree theft, makes a court appearance in Salt Lake City Tuesday November 21, 2017.

The couple is accused of killing a man in Colorado on Oct. 27 before coming to Utah, where, on Oct. 30, they sat in a dirt parking lot in Red Butte Canyon and looked for someone to carjack.

Charging records say the couple told police the plan was to kidnap someone and drive to Tennessee, bringing the victim. They would use the victim’s money and credit cards to buy supplies, charging documents state, and they planned to kill the victim once they reached their destination.

Alternatively, they considered killing the victim in Red Butte Canyon and taking the vehicle, they told police.

But as they sat contemplating who their target might be, Kathleen Boutain became irritated, authorities say, because it was taking too long for her husband to find a victim. She implied that “Austin was a coward,” documents state, and they got into a physical confrontation before she left.

At 8 p.m., she told University of Utah police that Austin Boutain had killed someone (apparently referring to the Colorado homicide), had pistol-whipped her with one of his two guns and would kill someone to get a vehicle, court documents state.

Back at the canyon, a car arrived at the parking lot.

Austin Boutain approached it, reportedly with the intention of asking whether its occupants had seen Kathleen Boutain. He said he knocked on the window several times to no response and then yelled. The driver started to make a U-turn.

Enraged, Austin Boutain fired a handgun at the driver’s side window, police documents say. He shot at the car five times.

Austin Boutain then retrieved his and his wife’s possessions and returned to the car, intending to steal it when he heard a female voice, according to court documents.

Guo’s friend was still in the car, talking to a police dispatcher. Boutain later told police he “walked up the hill and sat down for a few minutes before deciding to return to the vehicle and kill the female,” documents state.

He opened the passenger-side door, told her to turn off the phone and get out of the car. The woman did and threw her phone on the ground. As Boutain bent down to turn off the phone, she ran away.

Austin Boutain — who said he had intended to take her to the foothills to kill her — shot at her and missed, documents state.

Despite a police search in the foothills area, Austin Boutain was able to escape. However, he was arrested more than 14 hours later at the downtown Salt Lake City library.