VERNAL — Authorities in Utah County announced Tuesday they no longer believe Roger and Pamela Mortensen murdered retired BYU professor Kay Mortensen, Roger's father.
Prosecutors said they will move to dismiss charges against the couple on Wednesday.
Utah County sheriff's deputies on Tuesday arrested two 23-year-old Vernal men, Benjamin David Rettig and Martin Cameron Bond, who is the son of a close friend of Kay Mortensen. They were both booked into the Utah County Jail Tuesday night for investigation of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated kidnapping.
Roger Mortensen's attorney, Anthony Howell, said his client was emotional when he learned that the murder charge would be dismissed.
"He and I are both just elated and ecstatic about this new development. I would suspect that a few things in life are as liberating as being proven innocent, not just being found not guilty, but being proven innocent on something that everybody believes you did — especially something like murder," Howell said.
"I talked with him. He started crying and hugged me, not that I had anything to do with it. It's the reaction that every single one of us would have if we were exonerated on something like this," he said.
Kay Mortensen was found with his throat slashed in a bathtub on Nov. 16, 2009. Roger and Pamela Mortensen called 911 and said they were tied up in the home by robbers, but authorities said their stories were inconsistent.
"They've maintained the entire time the story and it's all been true," Howell said.
Acting on a tip, investigators obtained search warrants to look for weapons in Vernal that they believed were taken from Mortensen's Payson Canyon home.
Detectives recovered as many as 20 guns during their two searches on Tuesday, including five to seven guns from a home and a shed at 1130 W. 3000 South in unincorporated Uintah County, said Utah County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Brower. The rest were recovered from a buried weapons cache at Remember the Maine Park northwest of Vernal in Dry Fork Canyon. The cache was located about 10 feet from the parking lot in a wooded area.
No explosives were found, but police sources said there were components located there that could have been used to make a bomb.
While conducting a search warrant at the home, Brower said police encountered one of the suspects, who allegedly told police he was at the Payson home when Mortensen was killed. Officers then obtained information that led them to a second Vernal man.
Detectives caught the pair unawares, according to prosecutor Tim Taylor.
"There was no confrontation," he said. "They let us in."
The arrests appear to finally cap off what has been an complex investigation. Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy said officers interviewed "hundreds" of persons of interest and served "countless" search warrants in the case.
Four other people, including three with federal convictions involving drugs and guns, were arrested and questioned in the days following the killing, as investigators looked into the possibility that more than 30 guns missing from a large cache at Mortensen's home were sold or traded.
"We have always made the statement that if we could find the weapons, then we would know the story," Tracy said.
Taylor credited the sheriff's office with continuing to investigate the case even after the Mortensens were indicted.
"I think they've done an incredible job at making sure that we've followed up and that the truth would prevail," he said.
Taylor said either Bond or Rettig knew Kay Mortensen and had been to his home before. He said the motive for the slaying appeared to be stealing the guns.
Neither man appears to have a criminal record in Utah. According to court filings in his 2009 divorce, Bond was an unemployed student.
Darla Mortensen, Kay Mortensen's widow, told the Deseret News that Bond's father was a close friend of her husband. The two trained together in an emergency response program in Payson.
Roger and Pamela Mortensen, of Payson, were arrested in July after being indicted by a state grand jury on murder charges. Pamela Mortensen's trial was scheduled for January after she requested a speedy trial. Prosecutors last month agreed to release her on a GPS monitoring device if she allowed her trial to be delayed until April, the same time as her husband's, but a judge rejected the arrangement.
"I think there is some relief from Pam," Greg Skordas, Pamela Mortensen's attorney said Tuesday. "I think that she always felt that the truth would come out. Every day that she sat in jail is a day of her life that was wasted. And that she can never get back."
The Mortensens are being held in Utah County Jail on $500,000 bail. Howell said he expects Roger Mortensen to be transferred to the Weber County Jail. He is still facing unrelated federal weapons charges stemming from a search of his home at the time of his arrest. Pamela Mortensen is expected to be released Wednesday.
"It's very shocking to hear the new developments in the case," Darla Mortensen said. "I'm very happy to know they're cleared and that they were not involved in (Kay's) death."
She said Pamela Mortensen called her that day to see if they wanted to play games, as they frequently did. They wanted to get together because Darla and Kay were heading back down to their St. George home the next day.
"Now we will have answers to what happened that night," Darla Mortensen said. "It was hard for me to think Roger could have done that to his father."
"I think it will all be pieced together," she said, adding she hopes the new arrests will finally bring her closure. "It's so hard to move on with your life when that's hanging there and you don't know what happened."
Howell said he believes prosecutors initially filed charges partly because of inconsistencies between Roger's version of the events and Pam's version.
"This case is very limited on the problems of eyewitness, of eyewitness identification and testimony, which is that people will remember events quite differently from each other — even in stressful situations and non-stressful situations. And neither one of them was lying, they just simply remembered things differently," he said.
The Mortensens have spent more than four months in jail "on the most awful thing you could be charged with — killing your own father and being completely innocent of that," Howell said.
"I imagine that Roger's … probably feeling a huge relief. And I don't think he's focused at all on the fact that it's been uncomfortable for the last four months and a week. Right now I think that he's just grateful that the truth has come out and that he's going to be a free man on this."
Contributing: Jennifer Stagg, Geoff Liesik