OGDEN — A short-haired, clean-shaven Matthew Stewart leaned forward attentively Friday, his gaze almost never breaking, as a judge announced he'd heard sufficient evidence to order him to stand trial for murdering a police officer and wounding five others.
Even as 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde recounted in great detail the emotional testimony from multiple officers who described the night they came under fire, Stewart's demeanor appeared to be far more docile than the description of a man who once told a former flame that he would "go out shooting" if police ever came to his home.
Stacy Wilson, who said she met Stewart when they were both working the night shift at a Riverdale Walmart, testified that she dated the man for approximately a year. They had multiple conversations that she said exhibited Stewart's hostility toward police.
"(He said) the government and the police officers were all corrupt," Wilson testified. "He was very against the government. He didn't like the IRS, he didn't like police officers at all. He said they were all power-hungry and we were living in a police state."
Wilson said Stewart only became "more adamant" in his views during the course of their yearlong relationship.
"He told me that if the police ever came to his house, that he would go out shooting, that he would not go out alive — he would not let them take him," she said.
Multiple police officers, over the course of three days, testified that Stewart did just that the night of Jan. 4 when members of the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force arrived at Stewart's home, 3268 Jackson Ave., to serve a search warrant.
When questioned by defense attorneys, Wilson said she could not recall whether she relayed Stewart's views about police to officers when she reported the marijuana growing operation in September 2011.
Each agent who was shot testified about the chaos and fear they experienced that night as they tried to escape and rescue fellow injured officers.
Officer Shawn Grogan was the first to be shot and was struck in the cheek; officer Kasey Burrell was shot in the head and abdomen; officer Jason Vanderwarf was struck in the hip; Sgt. Nate Hutchinson was hit in both arms, his rib and his side; officer Michael Rounkles was hit in the mouth and forearm. Ogden police officer Jared Francom was shot seven times and died from his injuries.
All but Rounkles were members of the strike force. All testified that Vanderwarf pounded on Stewart's door and identified them, yelling, "Police, warrant!" multiple times. They also all said Vanderwarf waited more than a reasonable amount of time before Francom was told to break in by ramming the door.
The officers testified that they split up into two groups, one heading downstairs and the other upstairs. The officers downstairs said they had just discovered the marijuana growing operation when they heard gunshots above. Grogan testified that he entered a small hallway near the kitchen, yelling "Police, search warrant" when he saw a hand holding a gun appear around the door.
He said the weapon fired almost immediately, striking him in the cheek. He stumbled into a bathroom and returned fire until his gun was empty. Officer Derek Draper, who was behind Grogan, began to fire. When the crossfire stopped for a moment, Draper and Grogan made their way outside.
Some officers went outside to aid Grogan and set up a perimeter. Others went to find the shooter. The officers who remained in the home and the ones who went to their aid all sustained injuries, including Rounkles — who was on patrol nearby and heard the call of an officer down — and Hutchinson, who ultimately tried to drag Burrell and Francom out of the home.
"It was an ambush — that's what it was — and (Stewart) took every opportunity in those confined spaces to cut these officers down unmercifully," prosecutor Christopher Shaw told the judge. "There was no attempt by the defendant to advise the officers of his presence in the bedroom. Instead, he commenced firing."
Stewart's attorney, Randy Richards, argued that there were so many officers yelling so many things in the home that his client couldn't have understood what was happening. Most of the officers just described the shooter as a silhouette or a gun in a hand and Stewart shouldn't be expected to be able to discern that he was shooting on police officers, he said.
"Why hold Matt Stewart to a higher standard than these officers?" Richards asked. "It was mass confusion, mass chaos. … They expect Matt Stewart to hear and divine what exactly is going on in utter chaos."
The day after the shooting, investigator Robert Carpenter spoke with Stewart at Ogden Regional Hospital. It was not clear during that conversation whether Stewart knew he was shooting at police.
Stewart did say he thought someone was breaking into his house, that his home was "being invaded," according to Carpenter. Stewart told the investigator that his military training "just kicked in," but also said the people who entered his home "believed that what they were doing was right."
When Carpenter asked if Stewart knew who the men were, he said Stewart replied, "Not specifically" and later said, "There were lots of different branches ... branches of government."
"He knew that these agents were police officers," Shaw said. "He knew they were there to take down the marijuana grow and he made the decision to confront them knowingly and intentionally (and) he did so in such a way that Jared Francom was murdered and (other officers) were almost killed."
Richards was adamant that Stewart — who was even medicated after undergoing surgery that next day — told the investigator that he had been defending himself.
"I would suggest that Mr. Stewart certainly didn't know these were officers," Richards said. "He thought they were breaking into his home, invading his home, trying to kill him."
Shaw pointed to the small size of Stewart's home — it measures just under 32 feet by 26 feet — and said it is "unfathomable" that Stewart would not have heard the officers announce that they were police.
Paul Rimmasch, a crime scene investigator, said a total of 26 9mm shell casings were recovered from inside Stewart's home at 3268 Jackson Ave. Additional casings were collected from Stewart's backyard and front driveway.
Stewart was said to have a Berretta Storm that took 9mm cartridges. The police officers all testified that they were carrying 40-caliber Glock pistols.
Justin Bechaver, a forensic scientist with the Utah State Crime Lab, analyzed the casings and bullets recovered from all of the officers who were struck. He said they were all consistent with having come from a Berretta.
"Were any of those bullets and those fragments from a 40 caliber Glock handgun?" prosecutor Brandon Miles asked.
"No," Bechaver replied.
Bechaver said he has not yet analyzed cartridges or bullets that may have come from Glock pistols.
Defense attorneys also asked numerous questions about what the officers were wearing — specifically ballistics vests and jeans — and whether it was believed anyone was home when the warrant was served. Some of the officers testified that the home was considered to be a potential "grow house," or a home that is uninhabited and is used to grow marijuana.
And while some of the officers said they were wearing bulletproof vests, at least two said they were not. A crime scene investigator testified that a ballistics vest was not among Francom's clothing when she documented his clothing at the hospital.
Defense attorneys also questioned the investigation that was conducted on Stewart before the warrant was served, which Vanderwarf said consisted of a criminal background check that didn't show any serious concerns.
While Ogden police officer Tyler Crouch was the only officer who identified Stewart as the shooter, Hyde said there was a reasonable inference that Stewart was the gunman the police officers described. Among other things, the judge pointed to the ballistics evidence.6 comments on this story
Stewart's family has called the entire incident a "tragic misunderstanding" and believes he is being "made a scapegoat for violent mistakes and procedures of the police."
"The outcome is what we expected," sister-in-law Erna Stewart said after the hearing Friday. "We got what we wanted out of it."
Stewart is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday on charges of aggravated murder, a capital offense; seven counts of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; and production of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony.