LOGAN — A Millville woman has been ordered to stand trial Monday for attempted murder after police say she helped a friend try to take her own life.
Teresa Renae Clark, 36, is accused of procuring the medications that 55-year-old Karma Saltern took in an attempt to take her own life. The mixture killed Saltern's two Maltese dogs.
In exchange for helping with the suicide attempt, prosecutors allege Clark was to inherit all of Saltern's money and two storage units of her belongings.
Answering a call from Clark, police found Saltern, unconscious and breathing shallow, with her two deceased dogs in a Logan hotel on June 25. At first, Logan police detective Kendall Olsen testified Monday, investigators believed Saltern had attempted to take her own life. But when they learned of the alleged involvement by Clark, who had only known Saltern for a few months, they began to believe a crime had been committed.
Following a preliminary hearing detailing evidence in the case, 1st District Judge Thomas Willmore found there is probable cause to support two counts of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, a class A misdemeanor.
An additional charge of attempted aggravated murder, alleging Clark tried to buy a gun for Saltern to use to try to kill herself, remains undecided as prosecutors seek additional testimony about the issue. The preliminary hearing regarding that charge will continue Nov. 6.
As he handed down his decision, Willmore emphasized to Clark that his ruling is not a finding of guilt.
As the case proceeds, prosecutors face the challenge of proving the allegations without the victim, as Saltern was found dead Sept. 11 of an apparent suicide.
Clark's attorney, Michael McGinnis, insisted during the hearing that his client's alleged involvement didn't amount to murder. He emphasized that Saltern had clearly been intent on taking her own life, going on to do so with no assistance from Clark, who was in custody in the Cache County Jail.
"It's the best alibi you can get," McGinnis said.
McGinnis also pressed Olsen during cross-examination about whether there was evidence Clark had held Saltern down and forced her to take the medication. Olsen replied that while Saltern never said Clark had held her down, she did tell police that Clark had put the paste containing the drugs into her mouth.
During the hearing Monday, prosecutors relied on a taped phone conversation between Saltern and Clark, where Saltern pressed Clark about what had gone wrong with the suicide attempt. Willmore said Monday that much of his decision relied on that recording.
Saltern had cooperated with police as they recorded the call after she was released from the hospital July 6. In the recording, Saltern seemed frustrated as she pressed Clark about what had happened, telling her, "I want to talk about everything that happened, I want to make sure it doesn't happen again. I want to make sure it's done right this time."
Clark replied that medical personnel had given Saltern something to counteract the effects of the drugs. As the recording continued, Saltern questioned Clark about what drugs she had been given and in what dosages, and about the effect the medications had on the dogs.
"What happened to my dogs? Why were they suffering so bad, Teresa? They were like going hysterical," Saltern said in the phone call.
Saltern continued saying: "You were supposed to make sure I was dead so that I didn't have to see them suffer," as Clark interrupted, insisting, "I thought you were."
Referring to her dogs as her kids and her babies, Saltern asked Clark about whether she had tried smothering the animals when the medication didn't work, Clark insisted she hadn't given the dogs any of the drugs.
"You did that, not me," Clark insisted.
Saying she didn't want to keep living without her dogs, Saltern asked Clark about what they would do differently in a second attempt. Saltern asked Clark to book a hotel room for that night, and Clark assured she would have more pills waiting for Saltern when she arrived to pick up her car and that she would come check on Saltern after she got off work.
Saltern also confirmed during the call that Clark still had her money and belongings. Prosecutor Tony Baird said that employees from a credit union in the city submitted statements saying that Saltern and Clark had come to the branch together to execute a will naming Clark as the recipient of Saltern's estate, as well as a power of attorney dictating control of Clark's assets if she were incapacitated and a directive allowing Clark to make medical decisions for Saltern.
Those documents were found in the hotel room with Clark when police arrived, Olsen testified.Comment on this story
At moments during the phone call, Clark asked Saltern why she "sounded weird," finally asking near the end of the recording, "Are you at the cops?"
Saltern denied being with police, insisting the call sounded strange because she was in a building before pressing on with the conversation.
Saltern ended the phone call telling Clark, "love you." Clark replied, "love you, too."
The Utah Department of Health offers suicide prevention help at utahsuicideprevention.org/suicide-prevention-basic. The national crisis hotline is 1-800-784-2433.