A Salt Lake teenager accused of kidnapping the son of a prominent Utah businessman and trying to kill an FBI agent will stand trial as an adult.
The Utah Court of Appeals has affirmed the juvenile court's decision that Nicholas Hans Byrd be tried in the adult system rather than in juvenile court.The ruling may also affect a Vernal capital murder case in which a 16-year-old boy is charged with kidnapping, sexually abusing and killing a 6-year-old girl.
Byrd, 18, had just turned 17 when he was arrested in connection with the Dec. 8, 1987, kidnapping of James Huntsman, 16, the son of industrialist Jon Huntsman.
The Huntsman boy was abducted from his home and driven to a west-side motel room, where he was chained overnight to a plumbing fixture while his captors demanded $1.1 million ransom, according to a criminal complaint filed in 3rd Circuit Court.
The next day, as FBI agents closed in to arrest the kidnapper and free the victim, Byrd stabbed agent Al Jacobsen in the chest, partially severing an artery, the complaint alleges. Jacobsen nearly died on the way to the hospital.
Byrd confessed to kidnapping Huntsman, a former classmate at Highland High School, and stabbing the agent, according to the complaint.
Although Byrd was a juvenile, prosecutors deemed the offense as serious and "direct-filed" kidnapping and attempted murder charges in the adult court.
Byrd's attorney, Walter F. Bugden, challenged the action and petitioned Juvenile Court Judge Sharon McCully to recall Byrd into the juvenile jurisdiction.
After a two-day hearing in January 1988, McCully denied the motion, and Byrd was arraigned before 3rd District Judge Homer Wilkinson.
Bugden, however, promptly filed a petition with the Utah Court of Appeals, arguing that McCully improperly applied the law in her decision and that the direct-file law itself is unconstitutional.
But in an 11-page ruling, Appeals Court justices Russell W. Bench, Judith M. Billings and Pamela T. Greenwood ruled, "We are convinced that the direct-filing provision of the Utah Statute is clearly constitutional."
Bugden had argued that McCully's decision was based on her belief that Byrd required long-term supervision that was unavailable in the juvenile system, which loses jurisdiction over a defendant when he turns 21.
Bugden argued that such a reason cannot be considered in the recall hearing. Only the defendant's age, prior record and seriousness of the offense can be considered.
The appeals court disagreed with Bugden, ruling that McCully's determination on long-term supervision was based on the seriousness of the charge.
"We conclude that a ruling based solely upon the weight of the seriousness of the charge factor would not constitute an abuse of discretion."
The ruling on the Byrd case may foreshadow a similar ruling in a petition filed in the appeals court on behalf of Roger Dale Strunk, 16, who is charged in the strangulation of Veronica Fitzen, 6.
Fitzen was kidnapped from her back yard in Vernal last Aug. 7. Her body, wrapped in a pillowcase, was found five days later near a road 25 miles north of Vernal.
Prosecutors direct-filed capital murder, child kidnapping and child sex abuse charges against Strunk.Comment on this story
Defense attorney Kirk Bennett appealed to Juvenile Court Judge Merrill Hermansen, who upheld the direct-filing, saying Strunk's youth and lack of criminal record "in no way overshadow the seriousness of the crime."
Bennett then petitioned the Utah Court of Appeals, citing arguments similar to those in the Byrd case.
Deputy attorney general Creighton Horton, who is prosecuting Strunk, said it's unlikely the appeals court will rule differently in the Strunk appeal.
Bennett could not be reached for comment Monday.