Grim tally: Officers investigate 48 Utah homicides in 2010, including 11 children

4 Utah law enforcers were also killed last year

Published: Sunday, Jan. 2 2011 9:00 p.m. MST

 (Aaron Thorup, Deseret News) (Aaron Thorup, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — On paper, from a statistical standpoint, the homicide rate in Utah in 2010 appeared to mostly remain steady, with just a slight increase.

But when the severity of some of the crimes is considered, and when other deaths that did not "count" as homicides are taken into consideration — such as officer-involved shootings — some would argue that 2010 was still a disturbingly violent year in Utah.

 A 4-year-old boy who was only in Utah a few days and known by practically no one in that brief time, captured the hearts of the entire state following his particularly violent and disturbing death.

 Funerals were held for four Utah law enforcers killed in the line of duty, including two who were gunned down.

 (photo illustration, <b>aaron thorup,</b>deseret news) (photo illustration, aaron thorup,deseret news)

 In many cases, the suspect and victim were acquainted or related to each other, such as a father, son, boyfriend or former mother-in-law.

 Eleven times in Utah last year, police officers shot and killed people to prevent their own deaths or the deaths of others. One man was also legally executed by a firing squad of officers.

Five of the top 10 stories selected by Deseret News readers as the top news stories of 2010 involved murder or tragic death.

The Deseret News counted 48 Utah homicides in 2010. That's higher than the 39 homicides recorded in both 2009 and 2008 by the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification. The BCI, however, doesn't include all homicides in its list. It counts only first-degree felony homicides and manslaughter in its statistics and does not tally homicides committed on federal land, for example.

 (photo illustration, <b>aaron thorup,</b>deseret news) (photo illustration, aaron thorup,deseret news)

The Deseret News counts most felony homicides in its statistics, including child-abuse homicide and negligent homicide, killings on federal land and incidents that were originally charged as murder, even if the defendant pleaded to a lesser charge in court.

Neither the BCI nor the Deseret News included automobile homicides from vehicle accidents and DUIs, officer-involved shootings or executions. Those are treated as separate classifications.

Difficult Davis year

In May, police and neighbors searched tirelessly for a missing 4-year-old boy. Ethan Stacy had only been in Utah a short time, being sent to stay with his biological mother in Layton for the summer. Ethan's father reluctantly sent his son from Virginia to stay with his mother under pressure of a court order.

 (Aaron Thorup, Deseret News) (Aaron Thorup, Deseret News)

As the search progressed, however, it became apparent to investigators that Ethan's mother, Stephanie Sloop, and her husband of less than a week, Nathan Sloop, were lying about Ethan wandering off in the middle of the night.

As the Sloops' story rapidly unfolded, an extremely disturbing scenario emerged of a young boy who was constantly abused, then killed, his body desecrated and buried in a shallow grave in a remote area near Powder Mountain.

The horrific death of Ethan sparked an outcry from people around the nation who were shocked by the boy's brutal death. The Sloops were each charged with capital murder and could each face the death penalty if convicted.

While the community was still healing from the Ethan Stacy tragedy, another shocking crime occurred in Layton, just four months later, in September. The bodies of a brother and sister, 8-year-old James Warhola and 7-year-old Jean Warhola, were discovered on their beds by their father when he arrived home from work. Their mother, Sun Cha Warhola, was charged with two counts of capital murder. Investigators believe the cause of death for each child was strangulation.

In addition to Ethan Stacy and the Warhola children, Layton police were also called in February to investigate the deaths of 4-year-old Rebecca Toone and her 15-month-old sister, Rachel, who died from inhaling toxic fumes after a pest control worker allegedly applied rat poison too close to their home.

In November, Layton police admitted that investigating the deaths of five children in seven months had taken a toll on their department.

"I've had dreams that little Ethan has walked up to me and smiled at me, and another one where he rode by me on a bike and smiled," veteran police detective Brooke Plotnick said. "And I've had dreams with the Sloops in them, too. Well, I wouldn't call those dreams. Those are more nightmares."

Ultimately, the cases ended up being too much for some detectives who asked to be transferred out of the Investigation Unit at the end of 2010.

"We hope it's a year we never have to repeat," said Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.

Rawlings called his staff a group of "professionals who do their job often under stressful, emotional situations." But he noted that they are also human beings and the cases made an impact on their personal lives.

In addition to the high profile cases, Rawlings said his office of 12 prosecutors, eight secretaries and a handful of other staff members handled a total of about 7,000 cases in 2010. But rather than just keeping their heads above water, he complimented his staff for "swimming pretty fast upstream."

Child deaths

The Deseret News counted 11 juveniles under the age of 18 who were the victims of homicide in 2010. Four of them were under 10 years old.

Just a month after Ethan's body was discovered, 4-year-old Vanessa Hart of Kearns died of massive head trauma and massive internal injuries. Vanessa's father and live-in girlfriend, Marina Navarro, were each charged with murder.

In July in South Salt Lake, Angeles Cadillo-Castro, 31, was arrested for allegedly beating her 5-year-old daughter to death with a spatula.

In August, Taylor Pankow, 15, was allegedly stabbed to death by a 16-year-old classmate because of a dispute over an iPod.

Officer deaths

Law enforcers who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their communities also hit a disturbing spike in 2010.

In Utah, funerals were held for four police officers.

 On Jan. 5, Millard County sheriff's deputy Josie Greathouse Fox, 37, was gunned down and killed without warning while making a traffic stop on US-50 east of Delta.

 Sevier County Sheriff's Sgt. Franco Aguilar was knocked off a bridge and plummeted more than 200 feet to his death on April 29 while assisting a motorist who had crashed on an icy bridge in a remote area of I-70. Another motorist, driving too fast for conditions, slid into the first accident and knocked Aguilar off the bridge.

 Bureau of Indian Affairs officer Josh Yazzie was killed in a rollover accident in Roosevelt on June 7.

 Kane County sheriff's deputy Brian Harris was shot and killed Aug. 26 while running after a suspected burglar. Harris chased the man through the border towns of Kanab and Fredonia, Ariz. He was ambushed, shot and killed in Fredonia. His death was not included in Utah's statistics since the shooting occurred in Arizona.

The year marked a couple of unwanted firsts in Utah: Fox became the first female officer murdered in the line of duty. Aguilar became the first Hispanic officer in Utah to die in the line of duty.

For Utah's men and women in blue, most will view 2010 as a "bad year," said Robert Kirby, historian for the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial, and not a sign that their job has suddenly become more dangerous.

It's understood that being killed in the line of duty is one of the inherent risks of being a police officer, he said.

"You always want to say hopefully you won't have another one like that. But you know there's going to be. That's the real tragedy — there are men and woman working now, and they're going to be the next," Kirby said.

But law enforcers believe in what they're doing.

"They believe someone has to stand on that line between good and evil and protect the public," said Kirby. He noted there are men and women willing to "literally put themselves between danger and the public in order for the rest of us to sleep well in our beds."

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported a 37 percent increase in law enforcement fatalities in 2010. A total of 160 federal, state and local law enforcement officers died on the job. Fifty-nine of those officers were shot and killed, according to the memorial fund.

In Utah, the number of officers killed in the line of duty could have been higher.

On the same day Harris was shot and killed on the Utah-Arizona border, South Jordan police officer Stevan Gerber was shot in the knee by a man to whom he was trying to serve an arrest warrant, along with other members of the Joint Criminal Apprehension Team.

On Nov. 19, Park ranger Brody Young was shot in the arm, leg and stomach during a routine traffic stop. A bullet- proof vest may have saved his life.

Law enforcers also made the difficult decision several times to use deadly force to protect the public. Nine times in Utah last year, officers shot and killed in self-defense.

Salt Lake police officer Uppsen Downes shot and killed a heavily armed man in "full military-style combat attire" spotted walking near the Grand America Hotel on Aug. 27. The man fired at Downes several times with an assault rifle, wounding him. Downes took cover, and between shots, stood up and returned fire, ending the situation. Downes received several recognitions from the city and state for his actions.

On Dec. 25, South Jordan police shot and killed a heavily armed man who had already thrown multiple rifles and swords through the gate and onto the grounds of the LDS Church's Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple. The man was running toward a group of bystanders with a loaded shotgun when he was shot by police.

Ronnie Lee Gardner's execution by firing squad in June was also officially listed as a homicide on his death certificate because his death occurred at the hands of someone else. His death, however, was not included in the homicide statistics.

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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