Two men gunned down on a Salt Lake sidewalk earlier this week were each shot multiple times in the back, according to new information released Thursday by the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office.
Christian Sweeten, 26, was charged in 3rd District Court with two counts of aggravated murder in the shooting deaths of Anthony M. Gaines and Michael T. Ehlert that occurred early Monday near the corner of 1000 West and 500 North.
Because Sweeten is accused of killing more than one person at the same time, he received aggravated charges, potentially making him eligible for the death penalty. The district attorney's office has 60 days after Sweeten is arraigned to decide whether they will seek that sentence if he is convicted.
Sweeten, who turned himself in a couple of hours after the shootings, told investigators that he was lost that morning and got upset with Gaines and Ehlert for giving him bad directions. At some point during the confrontation, Sweeten told police he felt the two victims were the aggressors and that he felt threatened to the point that his life was in danger.
Sweeten's fiancee later told the media that Gaines and Ehlert were armed and fired first.
But Salt Lake police issued a statement saying no evidence was found to show either victim was armed. Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller said her office also rejected the claim Sweeten was acting in self-defense based on the fact that both men were each shot twice in the back with a .22-caliber rifle. A total of nine .22-caliber shell casings were found at the crime scene, according to court documents.
"He was not acting in self-defense," Miller said.
Police said they did not believe the shootings were based on race or ethnicity. But neither Miller nor Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank would make additional comments Thursday about the facts surrounding the crime, including whether Sweeten was in that neighborhood to drop off a friend as he originally claimed. Miller said that would come out later in court.
Miller noted that the Sweeten case marked the seventh aggravated murder case handled by her office this year and the ninth since September 2007. During the 2007 calendar year, there were four aggravated murder cases handled by the DA's office.
"We're not only seeing an increase in crime but an increase in the severity of crimes," she said.
Some of those aggravated murder cases include:
• Esar Met, 21, charged in the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo in March.
• Frank Benavidez, 20, and Gabriel Alvarez, 16, charged in the drive-by shooting of 7-year-old Maria Del Carmen Menchaca, in July.
• Donald Younge Jr., 41, was charged in May with the 1999 slaying of University of Utah theater student Amy Quinton.
• Biu Olive, 18, was charged with aggravated murder in the shooting death of Family Dollar Store manager Wally Knapton. He plead guilty in August.Sweeten was being held in the Salt Lake County Jail Thursday on $7 million bail.
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