UTAH STATE PRISON — Even after 25 years, Rodney Lund says there isn't a day that goes by that his family doesn't think about his oldest son, Utah Highway Patrol trooper Dennis "Dee" Lund.
"It hurts everyday. We cry a lot, as we do today," he told Utah Board of Pardons and Parole member Angela Micklos on Tuesday.
On June 16, 1993, trooper Dennis Lund was shot and killed while involved in a high speed chase with two teenagers from Indiana on I-70 in Emery County.
Jason Scott Pearson, who was 18, was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to up to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The boy he was with, 16-year-old George Kennedy, was convicted of murder. He has since been paroled from prison.
Pearson's first parole hearing was held in 1998. But he declined to attend and the hearing was held without him. On Tuesday, a re-hearing was held at the Utah State Prison. Pearson did attend, marking the first time members of the parole board have had the chance to hear directly from him about his crimes.
Pearson, now 43, nervously played with his fingernails and tapped his fingers on the table in front of him as he answered Micklos' questions and recalled what happened that day.
He said the day before Lund's murder, he and Kennedy had gotten into a confrontation with another group of teens in Indiana and Kennedy fired a handgun in the air as they ran away. Police were at the boys' homes later that night. That's when Pearson said they made a plan to take a car belonging to Kennedy's mother and drive to California.
"We were trying to run from responsibility," he said.
Among the items they took with them were Pearson's shotgun and a .22-caliber hunting rifle.
The next day, the two put gas in their car in Utah and drove off without paying. A short time later, a UHP trooper had tracked them down and attempted to pull them over.
Pearson, who was driving, said he was in the process of pulling over when, "without thought, without conversation," he decided to flee.
"Fear came over me," he said. "I just wanted to get away from the situation."
Several times on Tuesday, Pearson told the parole board that the only thing going through his head at that time was, "Get away, get away. I was just trying to get away."
He admitted he had the opportunity multiple times to pull over and end the chase, but he lacked the courage and responsibility at that age to do it.
"I was a coward and couldn't do the right thing or make the right decision," Pearson said, holding back tears near the end of the hearing. "I'm so sorry I was a coward that day."
Eventually, Pearson grabbed the loaded shotgun from the back seat and, while driving, fired at the trooper who had pulled up beside him. That trooper sped ahead of the fleeing car and pulled off to the side of the road. That's when Pearson handed the weapon to Kennedy and told him to shoot at the trooper again as they drove by, he said.
As the chase continued, Pearson grabbed the .22-caliber rifle from the back seat, put the car on cruise control, had Kennedy steer, and hung out the window — physically turning his body so he was looking at the pursuing officers behind — and then fired.
"I saw the vehicles and I knew they were police vehicles I was firing at," he told Micklos. "I was acting selfish in my actions because my concern was to get away."
Now, the full parole board faces the very difficult decision of balancing justice with giving a young man a second chance at being a contributing member of society.
Support for both Lund and Pearson was strong on both sides at Tuesday's hearing. The small room used for parole hearings was filled to capacity and many were forced to wait in an auxiliary room.
For Lund, family members, friends and many law enforcement officials attended the hearing, including Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Rapich, and Lund's brother, Clark Lund, a former UHP trooper with more than 35 years of law enforcement experience in both Utah and Idaho.
On Pearson's side, a large number of his friends and family attended the hearing. In addition, many letters of support were submitted to the board.
Lund's family urged Micklos and the parole board to make Pearson serve all of his life in prison.
"As a family, we want the max for him. I hate to say that. He's probably making a lot of progress. But that doesn’t help my family make progress. We still suffer. I don’t say he should suffer. But we just want him to pay his maximum sentence like it's designed," Rodney Lund, the 87-year-old patriarch of the Lund family, said.
Micklos noted that Pearson has not had any disciplinary violations since 2005 and has made the best of his time while incarcerated, including earning a bachelor's degree from Utah State University, in addition to other vocational training and life skills classes.
She also believed his remorse on Tuesday was sincere.
But the decision to grant parole or have Pearson come back in several years for another parole hearing, she said, will not be easy.
After the hearing, a man who had just sat with the Pearson family but declined to give his name, said he believes Pearson is a different man today than he was 25 years ago.
"I know Jason. I know his character. … And I've seen the last 25 years of his life being dedicated to show to other people that he is a different person than the person who committed that crime," the man said. "You ask anyone who’s 18 years old who is now in the their mid-40s if they’re the same person now as when they were 18, if they make the same kind of decisions, if they have the same thought processes. And I think everyone would agree we change signficantly and mature.
"I know there's going to be a lot of pressure from law enforcement to keep Jason incarcerated. My question that I ask myself and other people is: When is the time that is appropriate for Jason to be out? Is it the 25 years that he's done? Is it 35? If it is 35, what's going to change in 10 years?" he said.
"I don’t see any reason for him to be in here any longer. I know it will upset some of trooper Lund's family and relatives and the people they’ve impacted. Hopefully they’ll be able to find forgiveness and understand this is a young man in prison at 18 that made a dumb decision."23 comments on this story
Pearson thanked his family and friends for their support, and also the Utah Department of Corrections for treating him with respect while incarcerated despite what he did, as well as giving him the opportunity to better his life through education. He also told Micklos that he could be a trusted and respectful individual if he is released.
"I've taken great efforts to understand my thought process at the time," he said on having 25 years to reflect on his actions. "I never stop evaluating myself.
"I'm sorry. I'll always be sorry."