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UTAH COUNTY -- The suspects arrested in the murder of retired BYU professor Kay Mortensen could face the death penalty -- that's what the judge told the two Vernal men Wednesday. Also Wednesday, Roger Mortensen, once accused of the crime, was released from custody.
Roger Mortensen still faces firearms charges, but a federal judge freed him until his trial in January. He's gone from being a murder suspect to a victim of kidnapping the night his father was killed. He could be a star witness against the men now charged in the crime.
A "Welcome Home" sign and balloons were outside to greet Mortensen, who returned home after being in custody for the past 138 days. He went inside his home and declined to talk about being exonerated in the murder of his father.
A few hours earlier, the two men police now accuse of the crime appeared in court. Martin Bond and Benjamin Rettig were formally charged with aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and two counts of aggravated kidnapping.
The first priority now is getting them public defenders who can handle a potential death penalty case--ones that haven't previously been involved in Roger Mortensen's defense.
Prosecutor John Nielsen said, "As of this point, the concern is getting them qualified counsel. The court requires defense counsel meet certain requirements to represent someone on potentially a capital case, and that's going to take some time."
A tip that came in on December 6th led investigators to Bond and Rettig in Vernal, where nearly 20 guns that were stolen when Kay Mortensen was murdered in November of last year were recovered. That evidence prompted prosecutors to drop the murder indictment against Mortensen and his wife Pamela. She was released last week.
Several family members of Kay Mortensen were in the courtroom Wednesday morning and told us it has been an emotional week. They are hopeful justice will be served.
Prosecutors aren't saying if they will actually seek the death penalty against Bond and Rettig, but the option is now on the table. A decision on the death penalty likely won't be made for several months.
Bail for both Bond and Rettig is $1 million each, and they indicated to the judge they won't be able to post it, so they'll remain in jail indefinitely.