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UTAH STATE PRISON — A man convicted of human trafficking in February, who was also convicted in a high-profile murder case 20 years ago, says a lot of his problems start with drugs.
"I’m just a bad person when I’m on drugs. I’m sure anybody is. But I’m a real bad person on drugs, and I make poor decisions,” he recently told the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole during a recorded hearing.
In February, Jeremy Rettenberger was convicted of human trafficking and exploiting a prostitute after forcing two women into prostitution, keeping most of their money and threatening them to the point that they were afraid to leave. Rettenberger prostituted the women in Utah and Oregon. He was sentenced to 1 to 15 years in the Utah State Prison for the human trafficking violation and up to 5 years for the prostitution conviction.
Rettenberger was also part of a lengthy, complex saga involving the murder of Matthew John Whicker, 30, during a Motel 6 robbery in 1996, and once confessed to the deadly shooting. He was one of two 18-year-olds and a 17-year-old arrested for the killing.
In 1999, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that his statements could not be used because police lied and manipulated him to get the confession. He later testified that he was the lookout and the getaway driver during the crime. Three years later, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter as part of a plea deal. He received a suspended sentence and was freed.
In 2011, Rettenberger pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated sexual exploitation of a prostitute and attempted money laundering, and a judge ordered him to serve five years in prison. He was paroled in November 2015.
In July, Rettenberger went before a member of the Board of Pardons for an original hearing on his latest conviction, and for violating his parole on his last conviction.
He told board member Cathy Crawford that when he met the first woman he later forced into prostitution, they were both sober and involved in a consensual relationship. But he soon became hooked a methamphetamine, using it daily, he said, and she was addicted to heroin. The second woman became part of a "love triangle," he said.
"Did I lie and manipulate? Absolutely. But, we went into that together,” he said of the prostitution scheme. "I’m absolutely guilty of human trafficking. I’m guilty of exploiting a prostitute. I’m guilty of lying, manipulating, cheating, even threatening and doing those things. I just wanted to make some of that clear, as far as the board is concerned, that we was all on drugs as well."
Rettenberger claimed he had straightened his life out after his 1996 conviction. But he relapsed in 2010 and started using meth for the first time.
Crawford warned Rettenberger that based on the seriousness of his crimes and the fact he is a repeat offender, the board could "very easily" order him to be incarcerated longer than the recommended guidelines.
The full board recently ordered Rettenberger to complete psychological and psychotherapy evaluations and return for another hearing in November.