Draper • Jason Scott Pearson didn’t want to go to prison.
“I just wanted to get away,” he said Tuesday at his parole hearing.
He was 18 in 1993, when he fired a rifle at Utah Highway Patrol cars chasing him on Interstate 70. A bullet struck Trooper Dennis “Dee” Lund in the eye and killed him.
On Tuesday, Pearson, now 43, discussed his thought process as a teenager and how he is ready to give back to society.
Lund’s family asked the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to keep Pearson in prison.
“I imagine [Pearson], leaning out that car, blasting my son in the face with that rifle,” said Rod Lund, the 87-year-old father of the victim.
Hearing officer Angela Micklos said the board will likely take a month to render its decision.
Under questioning from Micklos, Pearson told his side of June 1993. The story began in Delphi, Ind., where Pearson and his accomplice, 16-year-old George Todd Kennedy, were living. Pearson said they had an altercation with other teens in a park. When Pearson and Kennedy ran in different directions, Kennedy fired a gun in the air, apparently to intimidate the other teens.
Sheriff’s deputies questioned Pearson and Kennedy and told them to come to the station the next day to make a formal statement. Instead, Pearson said, he and Kennedy stole Kennedy’s mother’s Ford Thunderbird and set out for California. They carried Pearson’s 20-gauge shotgun and .22-caliber rifle in the back seat.
They had little money. On June 16, they stole $21 worth of gasoline from a station in Thompson Springs, Utah. A sheriff’s deputy later spotted the Thunderbird on I-70 and tried to pull it over.
Pearson said he started to move the car onto the shoulder but then decided to keep driving forward. A 24-mile chase ensued. At one point, Pearson drove through the median, into oncoming traffic, up a ramp and across a bridge before turning west into the correct lanes again. Not long after that, he said, the UHP troopers joined the pursuit.
Dee Lund’s family sobbed as Pearson described what came next. Pearson said he took the shotgun and fired at one police car out his driver’s window. He passed the shotgun to Kennedy, and he fired at another car out his window.
West of Green River, according to courtroom testimony from the teen’s prosecution, Dee Lund was trying to pass the Thunderbird, perhaps to shoot its tires. An order was given over the radio for Lund to fall back.
As he did, Kennedy steadied the wheel while Pearson corkscrewed himself out the driver’s window and fired a .22-caliber rifle. A bullet ricocheted inside Dee Lund’s car. A fragment pierced his eye.
Another trooper shot the tires on the Thunderbird. The car rolled, ending the chase.
Kennedy pleaded guilty before trial to murder in the first degree and attempted murder. He agreed to testify against Pearson. At trial in 1995 in Utah’s 7th District Court, a jury convicted Pearson of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, aggravated assault and failure to stop at the command of a police officer.
Dee Lund was a 37-year-old husband and father of two who had worked for UHP for seven years.
The prison capped attendance in the small hearing room Tuesday at about 25, and some of Lund’s supporters had to wait outside.
His brother Clark Lund was a UHP trooper in Morgan in 1993. He is now a police officer in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Clark Lund was in uniform at Tuesday’s hearing, wearing a black band over his badge that commemorates peace officers killed in the line of duty.
Dee Lund’s widow, children, parents and another brother were among those in attendance Tuesday, too. UHP’s current commander, Col. Mike Rapich, also watched the hearing with his father, Steve Rapich, who was the sergeant over the crew that pursued Pearson and Kennedy and was present at the chase and shooting. Other troopers who participated in that pursuit attended, too.
Pearson had about 10 supporters. None of them spoke during the hearing, though Micklos referred to letters written on Pearson’s behalf.
Micklos complimented Pearson for accomplishments he’s made in prison, including holding a job there and completing a bachelor’s degree in business. She probed Pearson on whether he knew right from wrong and how dangerous guns can be. Pearson answered yes to all.
Micklos also pointed out Pearson had 15 or 20 minutes from the chase’s beginning to end to conclude things peacefully.
“It sounds like none of that ever crossed your mind,” she told Pearson.
“Looking back now,” Pearson replied, “I was selfish in my actions. My thoughts were, ‘Get away. Get away.’”
He repeatedly called himself a “coward” on the day of Dee Lund’s death and described a limited thought process. In prison, he said, he has worked to better himself and discussed with counselors how to overcome any fears he has about making the transition from inmate to free man.
Pearson, wearing a white prison jumpsuit and seated with his back to the gallery, began to weep as Rod Lund told Micklos about the loss “hundreds” of people suffered from his son’s death, including Dee Lund’s two children and the kids they have had.
Rod Lund worries Pearson will hurt someone else if he leaves prison.
“I’m sorry for him,” Rod Lund said. “I hope he has peace, as well, but I don’t want him released.”
The parole board could issue Pearson parole, set a date for another hearing some years later or decide that Pearson should never be paroled. Even if the board says Pearson should never be paroled, he would still have the right to ask for another hearing in 10 years.
It’s Pearson’s second attempt at parole. His petition was rejected in 1998.
Kennedy was sentenced to six years to life in prison. He was paroled in 2013.