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Hearing in Provo officer's killing finally set 3 years later

Flowers are placed on the car of slain Provo police officer Joseph Shinners in Provo on Jan. 6, 2019. A preliminary hearing for Matt Frank Hoover, who is charged with aggravated murder for the death of Shinners, is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

Flowers are placed on the car of slain Provo police officer Joseph Shinners in Provo on Jan. 6, 2019. A preliminary hearing for Matt Frank Hoover, who is charged with aggravated murder for the death of Shinners, is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday next week. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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PROVO — A full three years after a Provo police officer was shot and killed, testimony will finally be heard next week against a man accused of murdering the officer.

A delayed preliminary hearing for Matt Frank Hoover is set for Tuesday and Wednesday, the anniversary of officer Joseph Shinners' Jan. 5, 2019, death.

Hoover, 43, has remained in custody since criminal charges were filed against him. At the hearing, a judge will determine whether there is enough evidence to order Hoover to stand trial for aggravated murder, a capital offense, by a jury of his peers.

Shinners was a three-year veteran with the Provo Police Department and left behind a wife and a 1-year-old son.

Police were attempting to arrest Hoover for probation violations when Hoover allegedly backed his truck into a police car. Shinners and another officer were attempting to get Hoover out of the truck when Shinners was shot in the chest with a stolen pistol.

Officers returned fire and hit Hoover, who was in the hospital for a few weeks before being charged.

Investigators say Hoover had no intention of going back to prison. Even his ex-wife said he "talked daily about not going back to prison and getting into a shootout with the police and that they would 'go out' like the characters in (his) favorite movie, 'Natural Born Killers,'" according to charging documents.

In addition to aggravated murder, Hoover is charged with assault of a police officer, theft and possession of a weapon by a restricted person, second-degree felonies; as well as failure to stop at the command of a police officer and possession or use of a controlled substance, which are both third-degree felonies.

The preliminary hearing for Hoover has been delayed over the last three years for various reasons, including for a competency review which ultimately led to an agreement that the suspect was competent to proceed.

Multiple delays were also tied to the ongoing pandemic. Hoover's attorneys also said their client's health has made it harder to communicate with him.

The most recently rescheduled preliminary hearing was moved because attorneys told the court that they had made a plea offer that Hoover was considering. Hoover later claimed, however, that he was rushed by his attorneys and he did not agree to a plea deal.

Hoover's attorneys declined to comment Friday.

The Utah County Attorney's Office said it is working to move the case through the trial process and plans to call several witnesses.

Even though aggravated murder is a capital offense, it is not likely that prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Hoover. When charges were first filed, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt would not say whether he would seek the death penalty, noting that his office would legally have until 60 days after Hoover is arraigned to make that decision. The arraignment doesn't occur until after a preliminary hearing.

In September, Leavitt joined three other county attorneys in calling for an end to the death penalty and asked the governor and Utah Legislature to repeal the state's death penalty statute. Days earlier, Leavitt announced that he had decided not to seek the death penalty ever again in any future case.

"What we have learned since Gary Gilmore is that innocent people have been executed and that the penalty of death has been carried out inconsistently and discriminatorily," Leavitt said. "What we have also learned is that the death penalty does not promote community safety. It is not an effective deterrent. It simply demonstrates our societal preference for retribution over public safety."

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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