Prosecutors will seek death penalty in Utah highway killing

This undated booking photo provided by the Idaho State Police shows Jonathan Llana, 45. A search was underway Thursday, May 23, 2019 in southern Idaho for Llana, suspected of shooting and killing a motorist on a Utah highway, Idaho State Police said in a statement. (Idaho State Police via AP)

Box Elder County prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a California man accused of shooting and killing a Utah motorist last year.

Jonathan Llana, 46, is accused of shooting 50-year-old Dennis Gwyther and injuring Gwyther’s passenger last May as they were driving on a stretch of Interstate 84 called Rattlesnake Pass in northern Utah.

(Rich Kane | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Owners of the Salt Lake City gay bar the Sun Trapp, from left: Riley Richter, Michael Goulding and Dennis Gwyther, pose in 2018. Gwyther was shot and killed in 2019 while driving on Interstate 84 near the border of Utah and Idaho.

Llana was arrested in Idaho after a two-day manhunt, and was charged with a count of aggravated murder, one charge of attempted aggravated murder and six counts of felony discharge of a firearm.

His case was delayed after he was declared not competent to stand trial last October. But five months later, Llana was found to be competent after receiving treatment at the Utah State Hospital and the case could move forward.

Authorities have not publicly released a motive for the killing.

Gwyther was a well-known LGBTQ activist in Utah. He was a flight attendant and was commuting to his job in Boise, Idaho, when he was killed.

Llana is one of 40 people in Utah who are currently charged with aggravated murder, according to court officials. His is one of five cases pending where prosecutors have filed motions announcing that they intend to bring the death penalty.

It’s been more than a decade since anyone in Utah has been sentenced to death. It last happened in 2008, when Floyd Maestas was sentenced to die for stomping a woman to death during a robbery. Maestas died of natural causes in 2018.

Utah has not executed an inmate since Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by firing squad in 2010.

There have been several efforts in recent years to abolish the death penalty in Utah, but the legislation never gained enough traction to become law.