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PROVO — Utah County prosecutors are no longer seeking a capital offense aggravated murder charge in the death of a Provo police officer.
On Tuesday they downgraded the charge to a first-degree felony and confirmed that the suspect accused of shooting and killing Joseph Shinners will not be facing the death penalty.
The preliminary hearing for Matt Frank Hoover, began on Tuesday, three years after Jan. 5, 2019, when Shinners, 29, was fatally shot in an attempt to arrest Hoover.
"This is an aggravated murder case, which can be charged as a first-degree felony or as a capital homicide," Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said about the case. "The path for either designation and focus of our prosecution is to seek life in prison without parole. We want to be clear and transparent about the charges we are seeking in this trial process."
This confirms that Hoover will not be facing the death penalty in this case. This does not come as a surprise as Leavitt announced along with three other county attorneys in September 2021 that they would no longer seek the death penalty in the future. They said evidence does not support that the death penalty is successful at deterring violent crimes.
In addition to reducing the aggravated murder charge, the prosecutors also dropped two of the charges filed against Hoover including a second-degree felony charge for assault against a police officer and one of two third-degree felony charges for possession or use of a controlled substance.
There are now five charges against Hoover including the aggravated murder charge, one drug possession charge, a second-degree felony gun possession charge, a second-degree felony theft charge and a third-degree felony for failing to stop at the command of police.
Although the attorneys in the case finished presenting evidence in Tuesday's hearing, the anticipated decision from Judge Kraig Powell regarding whether Hoover should stand trial for the charges was delayed by Hoover's attorneys.
They asked the court for a chance to review the transcript of the hearing and evidence submitted to the court before presenting their argument. The judge set deadlines for court filings from both sides regarding whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial on the charges, and a hearing for further argument and making his decision on March 14.
At the preliminary hearing, multiple officers testified about the incident. Police officers were attempting to arrest Hoover who they said was a fugitive because he had violated probation for convictions related to felony joyriding and drug distribution. An informant had said that Hoover would be at a gas station near the Provo Center Street freeway exit.
A supervisor that night, Lt. Jared Barney, who is now retired, and other officers who were assisting that night testified at the hearing, along with two forensic technicians who evaluated the scene and evidence.
The officers did not intend to pursue if Hoover fled the initial location; however, one of the officers who testified got into the truck on the passenger side in an attempt to take Hoover into custody and the suspect was able to drive away with the officer in the car. Because of this, police chased the car to 50 W. University Parkway in Orem.
"I would have chased him to the end of the earth if there was a cop in the truck," Barney said.
After the truck stopped in a parking lot, multiple officers in the Orem and Provo police departments, including Shinners, attempted to get Hoover out of the truck and into custody, according to testimony. An officer explained that they knew that he had a gun, and that he heard shots.
After Hoover was in police custody, Barney said he realized Shinner had been hit with a bullet after he fell to the ground. Barney testified at Tuesday's hearing that as soon as he noticed that Shinners had been shot, he drove him to the hospital in his police truck.
Hoover was also shot during the incident, and was in the hospital for a few weeks before the charges were filed against him and he was incarcerated.
The woman who owned the gun Hoover used, which an affidavit said Hoover called the "Purple People Eater" and "Purple Monster," testified at the hearing as well. She said that she did not know Hoover and that her gun was stolen while she was working at a restaurant. She had left her purse with her gun in it in a locked room which could only be accessed by employees.
Shinners left behind a wife and one son, and his wife learned that she was pregnant with another child three days after Shinners' funeral.