Rettig sentenced to 25 years in killing of BYU professor

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13 2011 5:30 p.m. MST

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Benjamin Rettig listens during his sentencing at the 4th District Court in American Fork Tuesday December 13, 2011. Rettig was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for his involvement in the Nov. 16, 2009 killing of retired BYU professor Kay Mortensen.

Chris Detrick

AMERICAN FORK — Before he was brutally killed in his own home, former BYU professor Kay Mortensen was enjoying the retirement he had long worked for.

He went on a cruise to Hawaii, served a mission for the LDS Church and took dancing lessons with his wife.

"We were very happy," his widow, Darla Mortensen, told 4th District Judge Thomas Low. "He didn't want to die. He wasn't ready to die. He wanted to live."

Instead, the 70-year-old man was killed in his Payson home on Nov. 16, 2009. Bound with zip ties and with a gun to his head, he was made to kneel over his bathtub before his throat was slit. Charged in the slaying were two men from Vernal.

One of them, Benjamin Rettig, 24, was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years to life in prison for aggravated murder, a first-degree felony. Low ordered that the sentence run concurrent to a second sentence of 15 years to life in prison for aggravated kidnapping, also a first-degree felony. The judge issued two fines of $10,000 and restitution in the amount of $10,671.

Before Low handed down the sentence, he called Kay Mortensen "a talented, valuable and good human being" and said "a more innocent victim would be hard to find." He charged Rettig with trying to restore that goodness while in prison and once he was released.

"What I'm asking you to do is find something, someone to help to replace the good that you took," Low said.

At many points during the hearing, Rettig looked younger than his 24 years. His cheeks rosy and his hair a mess of curls, he cried as his mother — while speaking to the judge — turned to her son and said: "I speak for everyone in our family when I say we love you very much."

But members of Mortensen's family said their ties have strained and snapped in the time since their father, brother and husband was killed. Fern May, Kay Mortensen's sister, called the slaying "cold-blooded murder" and Rettig a coward whose decisions ruined a family.

"Our family was left with a gaping hole," May said. "Irreparable damage was done and will never be repaired."

Roger Mortensen, Kay Mortensen's son, who along with his wife Pamela, was originally charged in the slaying, said: "It's been a terrible experience."

He questioned why Rettig didn't stop Martin Bond, 24, from killing Kay Mortensen and why he didn't speak after Roger Mortensen and his wife were arrested.

"He stood by as me and my wife were falsely accused and incarcerated," he said. "He set in motion a horrible chain of events that can never be repaired. ... I hope he is in prison for the rest of his entire life."

Many people, in both Rettig's family and Kay Mortensen's family, talked about the decision Rettig made to stand by while Mortensen was killed and, later, when Roger and Pamela Mortensen were charged, and wondered at what he could have done.

"He participated in a brutal, heartless murder that was just senseless," Darla Mortensen said, adding that she was more upset upon learning that neither Rettig or Bond was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. "They knew what they were doing. Why couldn't they have just taken those guns and left? I think that they had murder on their minds."

Rettig pleaded guilty to the two counts in June as part of a deal that removed the possibility of the death penalty and set the 25-years-to-life sentence. Rettig also agreed to help prosecutors with their case against Bond.

Rettig later considered withdrawing his plea, but changed his mind and proceeded with sentencing. He spoke only briefly Tuesday, apologizing numerous times for what he had done.

Prosecutors have filed notice that they will seek the death penalty against Bond. A trial date for Oct. 9, 2012, was set Tuesday in Bond's case. It is believed he slit Kay Mortensen's throat while Rettig held the gun.

"The only difference between (Rettig) and Mr. Bond is Mr. Bond is the one who actually cut Mr. Mortensen's throat," prosecutor Tim Taylor said. "Everything before, during and after (the killing), Mr. Rettig was right there."

"My son made the wrong decision," Rettig's father, Harry, told the judge. "But today he's standing up and taking responsibility for his actions."

Taylor said he stood by the sentence that was agreed upon in the plea agreement — to not have the two sentences run consecutively — and Low ultimately felt that Kay Mortensen would have wanted Rettig to have the possibility to turn his life around.

After the hearing, Darla Mortensen said she was relieved and grateful the court proceedings were half-finished. She said she would have liked to have seen a longer sentence, though, and believed her husband would have felt the same, despite the judge's statement that the man would have wanted leniency.

"Unfortunately, knowing Kay, he wouldn't have felt that way," she said. "He was a little vindictive. He would have wanted him to pay the price."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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