Today in the Fourth District Court in American Fork Benjamin David Rettig, only 23 years old, plead guilty to the 2009 aggravated kidnapping and aggravated murder of Kay Mortensen of Payson Utah. You may remember this case from the fact that originally Kay Mortensen’s son and daughter-in-law were arrested on the charges and were in jail for five (5) months. The Utah County Attorney’s office used a procedure known as the grand jury which is a secret proceeding where the prosecutor presents evidence to several individuals who compose the grand jury and then the grand jury determines whether there is enough evidence to bring charges against the suspect also known as an indictment.
An old legal adage says that a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich and the unfortunate thing is that is not an overstatement. The grand jury process is basically a rubber stamp on the State’s desire to bring charges against a suspect. Unfortunately, the Mortensens were indicted by a grand jury even though there was no evidence of their involvement in the murder. As a result they lost their liberty for five months until a tip led to other suspects, including Benjamin Rettig.
Mr. Rettig, as part of his plea deal agreed to testify at a preliminary hearing against his co-defendant in the case. In exchange the prosecution agreed to recommend the possibility of parole after a 25 year sentence. The judge in the case is not bound by the prosecutor’s recommendations and can impose any sentence which is just given the circumstances of the case. The prosecution also agreed not to seek the death penalty against Mr. Rettig.
This was a terrible thing that happened to the Mortensen family. Not only did they lose the patriarch, but they also had to suffer through false accusations and a loss of liberty because of a faulty legal system which allows criminal charges to be brought so easily without substantiating evidence.