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AMERICAN FORK — One of two men charged in the slaying of retired BYU professor Kay Mortensen pleaded guilty to murder Thursday.
Benjamin Rettig, 23, has agreed to plead guilty to aggravated murder, a capital offense, and aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony. In exchange, prosecutors will not seek the death penalty in the case and will drop additional charges of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary, both first-degree felonies.
Sentencing will be July 19. It is expected prosecutors will ask 4th District Judge Thomas Low to sentence the man to 25 years to life in prison.
"It's difficult. It's hard," said Darla Mortensen, Kay Mortenson's widow. "It's a young kid. It breaks your heart to think he could do something so horrible."
Rettig and Martin Cameron Bond, 24, both of Vernal, were charged in connection with Mortensen's death in early December, after a tip came in about the location of several weapons, stolen during the murder, which were recovered in the Vernal area.
As part of his plea deal, Rettig agreed to testify in the case against Bond, who has a preliminary hearing set for July.
The arrests of Rettig and Bond marked a shift in focus for police and prosecutors who initially alleged that Mortensen’s son, Roger Mortensen, and daughter-in-law, Pamela Mortensen, were responsible for retired Brigham Young University mechanical engineering professor's slaying.
The couple was freed from jail when Rettig and Bond were arrested after spending more than four months behind bars and within weeks of when Pamela Mortensen was scheduled to stand trial.
Kay Mortensen was found dead in his Payson home on Nov. 16, 2009. Pamela Mortensen called 911 dispatchers and informed them that Mortensen was dead. Roger Mortensen later got on the phone and reported that his father’s throat had been cut and that they had been held hostage by the killers. Investigators were suspicious and focused their investigation on the couple, until the tip involving Rettig and Bond came in on Dec. 6.
Rettig admitted to helping Bond steal 25 weapons from a bunker behind Kay Mortensen’s home. Rettig held Mortensen at gunpoint, while he watched Bond slice Mortensen’s throat with a long knife. Not long after, Roger and Pamela Mortensen knocked on the door. They were held at gunpoint and tied up with zip ties, and Rettig said he convinced Bond not to kill them. Bond took Roger Mortensen’s driver’s license and threatened the couple, telling them they knew where they lived and would return and kill them if they cooperated with police.
Bond and Rettig then allegedly took the weapons and ammunition and returned to the Vernal area, where the stolen firearms were buried.
"We think [Retting] was more of an aiding and abetting capacity," Deputy Utah County Attorney Tim Taylor said Thursday. "But he admitted responsibility today, and I think that's a good plea agreement."
Meanwhile, Bond is facing charges of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, all first-degree felonies and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Several of Kay Mortensen's family members were in the courtroom for Thursday's hearing, but Roger and Pamela Mortensen were not among those present.
Darla Mortensen said she is relieved there won't be a trial, but would have preferred that Rettig serve life in prison with no chance of parole.