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PRICE — Three people have been charged with murder in the death of a man whose body was found in the basement of a burning home in Price last month.
James William Pendleton Jr., Ashley Ann Platt and Michael John Dees were each charged Wednesday in 7th District Court with murder, a first-degree felony, aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and criminal conspiracy, a second-degree felony. Pendleton is also charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.
"We charged them with murder under the theory that they were all involved in a kidnapping and that resulted in a death," Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate said.
Investigators believe Pendleton, Platt and Dees kidnapped Brian William Swink on July 29 and locked him in the basement of the house where Pendleton lives, 423 S. 200 West. Pendleton is also suspected of assaulting Swink, who is his cousin, with a baseball bat.
Swink, 32, was still locked in the basement when investigators believe he started a fire.
"We're not sure if he was trying to retaliate or trying to get the attention of (Pendleton, Platt and Dees) upstairs," Strate said Wednesday.
Pendleton called 911 to report the fire, telling dispatchers that a man he had beaten up in a fight was locked inside the burning home, according to Price police. When firefighters reached the house, Pendleton allegedly told them the man locked in the basement was armed with a handgun.
"That was a false report to us at that time, and it certainly delayed the efforts of (firefighters)," Price Police Capt. Bill Barnes said after the fire.
While firefighters waited for police to secure the house, Pendleton broke through the locked basement door, but smoke and flames made entry impossible, according to investigators.
Firefighters found Swink's body in the basement. An autopsy determined that the Helper man died of asphyxiation from smoke inhalation.
Strate said investigators believe Swink angered Pendleton because he took Pendleton's truck without permission or possibly because he may have threatened Platt, who is Pendleton's girlfriend. A clear motive for the assault and kidnapping, however, has been elusive, the prosecutor admitted.
"It's real hard to sort out," Strate said. "We're talking about layers of things, all being filtered through the minds of drug addicts."
Court records show Pendleton, Platt, Dees and Swink were all well-known to Carbon County law enforcement.
Pendleton, 39, has a rap sheet that includes dozens of arrests and convictions for offenses that include possession of a controlled substance, failure to stop for police, attempted burglary, attempted forgery, criminal mischief and violation of a protective order.
In late March, he was arrested after a man told Price police Pendleton attacked him with a baseball bat without provocation. The victim was "savagely beaten," according to investigators, and had to be hospitalized in an intensive care unit.
When police pulled Pendleton over after the alleged baseball bat assault, Platt and Dees were in the car with him. Officers said they also found drug paraphernalia and almost 10 grams of methamphetamine inside the car. Pendleton was arrested but posted bail and was released.
Court records for Platt, 21, show convictions for unlawful acquisition of a financial transaction card, illegally obtaining identifying documents of another person, possession of drug paraphernalia and DUI.
Dees, 38, has convictions for attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor, attempted burglary, theft by receiving stolen property and interfering with an arresting officer, according to court records.
Court records show Swink had prior convictions for aggravated robbery, attempted burglary, assault, drug possession and criminal mischief. At the time of his death, he had two cases pending in Helper City Justice Court, where he was charged with making a threat of violence, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
Pendleton, Platt and Dees all made initial court appearances Wednesday via closed-circuit video. They remain in the Carbon County Jail.