One of two men accused of killing a Midvale storage unit manager has been ordered to stand trial on charges of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and felony theft.
Following a preliminary hearing Thursday, 3rd Circuit Judge Philip Palmer issued the order for Ronald Eugene Penman, 25, who is charged with killing Spencer Nielson, 53, at a storage-unit business, 111 S. Allen St., on Oct. 31.Before ruling on the second-degree murder charge, however, Palmer said he will review written briefs from defense and prosecuting attorneys. A hearing on those briefs was scheduled July 21.
A second defendant in the case, Wendell Devon Baer, remains at large.
During Thursday's hearing, Baer's brother, Kevin Baer, who is being held as a material witness, testified that he saw Penman and Monte Johnson go into Nielson's residence to "clean up the mess" following the burglary and robbery, in which valuable artifacts were stolen.
That "mess" involves comments made during the robbery and burglary in which Penman called his partners by name. Prosecutors allege Nielson was killed so he wouldn't be able to give police those names.
Salt Lake County deputy attorney Glenn Iwasaki, however, presented no evidence or testimony that Penman was the one who actually fired the shotgun blast that killed Nielson. Such testimony was expected to come from Johnson, who has not been charged with any crimes but has been granted limited immunity for his testimony.
But Johnson did not show up at Thursday's hearing. Prosecutors are not sure where he is.
Kevin Baer testified Thursday that he assumed Johnson was the one who pulled the trigger, though Baer said he had no way of knowing that for certain.
Defense attorneys will argue that Penman did not fire the gun and had nothing to do with the murder.
Iwasaki argued that regardless who pulled the trigger, the evidence suggests that Penman was a "party to the offense," which, under the statute, makes a person guilty of the crime.
"What we're going to show is that Mr. Penman was one of two people in that room when that shotgun blast went off."
Also, Iwasaki said, the evidence shows that Nielson was killed while his assailants were fleeing from aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, a situation that also makes a person guilty of second-degree murder.