Appearing to be on the verge of tears, Mark Hacking nodded silently in agreement as his attorney entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf in 3rd District Court Friday.
Hacking, 28, is charged with one felony count of murder and three second-degree felony counts of obstruction of justice in connection with the July 19 death and disappearance of his wife, Lori Hacking.
The "not guilty" plea opens the way to a trial next spring. A trial date was set for April 18 by Judge Denise Lindberg. Mark Hacking's attorney, D. Gilbert Athay, told Lindberg he expects the trial to last one week.
Athay declined comment after the hearing, saying only, "We don't discuss these things."
Salt Lake prosecutor Robert Stott said he would not speculate as to what defense Athay might try to mount.
The plea keeps the Soares family mired in pain, Lori's mother, Thelma Soares, said.
"In pleading not guilty, Mark continues to hurt us, and I feel outraged in Lori's behalf as he heaps insult upon injury," Soares said, reading from a written statement outside the courtroom. "But I am not too concerned about the legal posturing our imperfect legal system allows, because I know that one day Mark will receive perfect judgment from the only judge who knows every detail of what he did that terrible night in July."
In a letter sent to the Salt Lake County Jail last month, Lori's brother, Paul Soares, begged with Mark to plead guilty and end the suffering for both families. Paul Soares said he wanted to avoid a trial.
But Scott Hacking, Mark's brother, said a trial might answer some of the questions family and others have about what happened between Mark and Lori that ultimately led to her death. Prosecutors believe Mark Hacking killed his wife of five years because she had uncovered his numerous lies, including his false claim to have been accepted to medical school.
"I have the same questions that you do," Scott Hacking said after the hearing, which he attended with several siblings and his parents, Douglas and Janet Hacking. "I hope to know all of those answers eventually."
Mark Hacking, who appeared in court in tan jail clothing, wrist and ankle shackles and a bulletproof vest, made no eye contact with family members. Court security was heavy, with about seven bailiffs present in court and in the hallways after the hearing.
Lori Hacking's decomposed and shattered remains were found Oct. 1 in a refuse pile at the Salt Lake Valley Solid Waste facility, 75 days after her husband reported her missing. An autopsy was inconclusive as to cause of death, nor did it establish whether she was pregnant, as she had told a family member.
Mark Hacking allegedly confessed to his brothers that he shot his wife in the head with a .22-caliber rifle and then deposited her body and the murder weapon in separate Dumpsters not far from the couple's University of Utah area apartment.
Scott Hacking and his brother, Lance, will presumably be called to testify against their brother.
"Any time they call a family member to testify against another family member, it's going to be painful," Scott Hacking said. "But my family is still committed to doing the right thing."
Family members wrote to Mark over the past week, encouraging him to "do the right thing" in entering a plea, but also saying they would support him no matter the decision, Scott Hacking said. He said he believes Mark's plea reflects a decision to allow the legal system to play out rather than an effort to avoid responsibility.
"I don't think he didn't plead guilty today because he's refusing to answer that question," Scott Hacking said.
Family members continue to visit Mark Hacking in jail but don't talk in specifics about the case or the details of June 19, Scott Hacking said. While in jail, Mark is undergoing extensive psychological evaluations, and the family would likely only be privy to those conclusions within the context of a trial, Scott Hacking said.
On the advice of counsel both Athay and county district attorneys family members have refrained from discussing details of the case with Mark in their weekly visits to the jail, Scott Hacking said.
Lori's father, Eraldo Soares, said he was saddened but not angered by Mark Hacking's plea.
"I am not going to be angry at all because it would be against what I believe in, you know, in my religious beliefs. I have to accept what is going on. . . . It's sad that he said 'not guilty,' because he's postponing the hurt that we have," Eraldo Soares said.
"I feel sorry for (Mark) because" of the lives lost "Lori, her baby and Mark three lives, and that for me is sad."
Soares said he puts his trust in Lindberg and prays for her in addressing the difficult issues ahead.A tearful Thelma Soares showed reporters a colorful drawing sent to her by a California artist last week. The picture depicts a woman and her baby wrapped in a Native American-style blanket ascending to heaven.