Utahn who arranged wife's death seeks parole but denies planning murder 36 years ago

A Layton man serving a prison sentence for aggravated murder in his wife's 1985 death is hoping for parole but won't admit to arranging her death.

A Layton man serving a prison sentence for aggravated murder in his wife's 1985 death is hoping for parole but won't admit to arranging her death. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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UTAH STATE PRISON — A Layton man sent to prison for arranging the murder of his estranged wife 36 years ago is now seeking parole. But he isn't acknowledging his role in the crime he was convicted of.

Jon Thomas Wetzel was convicted of aggravated murder, a capital offense, in 1992 and faced a possible death sentence. He was ultimately sentenced instead to a term of up to life in the Utah State Prison.

On Nov. 13, 1985, Jon Wetzel was served with divorce papers and his estranged wife Sharol Wetzel, 36, sought a restraining order preventing him from disposing of marital assets and pledging his retirement funds.

Just seven days later, Kittie Eakes drove with Sharol Wetzel to a secluded area on a remote road by the Ogden River and shot her in the head. Eakes confessed to the shooting two days later, was convicted in 1986 of murder, a first-degree felony, and was sentenced to six years to life in prison.

But while in prison, Eakes went through a lot of therapy and eventually told authorities that she had been in a relationship with Wetzel, who prompted her to commit the crime, at one point even asking her every day to kill his estranged wife, court records state.

"During this time, defendant supplied Eakes with marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. He also gave Eakes money to 'think about' killing Mrs. Wetzel and later gave her more money to purchase a gun," court records state. On the day of the shooting, Wetzel "explained how to carry out the murder and the story they would tell police if they were questioned."

Eakes was a key witness at Wetzel's trial. After he was convicted, Wetzel received an original parole hearing in 1995. At that time he was denied parole and another hearing was scheduled for 27 years later, on Jan. 25, 2022.

At that recent hearing, two of Sharol Wetzel's children asked the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to keep Jon Wetzel, now 64, in prison, both adding that they believe he was much more culpable for their mother's death than Eakes.

"(He) planned and carried out the execution of my mother in 1985," said Teresa Christensen, Sharol Wetzel's daughter, in a recording of the hearing. "The murder of my mother was not a random act. All my mother wanted to do was to get away from this heartless, psychopathic con artist."

Christensen said Wetzel "escaped justice" for seven years after her mother was murdered. During that time, he tormented family members by stalking them and showing up at their work or at sporting events.

"We were in fear of our (lives) every day. The entire family knew he was the master manipulator behind the murder of my mother. He has never showed any remorse for anything he has ever done," she said.

"I think back to that day in 1985 when we lost our mother and how it changed every bit of my life, every ounce of it," said Val Christensen, Sharol Wetzel's son.

He described Eakes as being the "gun" in his mother's death and Jon Wetzel being the "trigger."

Both siblings told the board that Wetzel has not shown any remorse for his actions and claimed he remains egotistical, narcissistic, and has an anti-social personality.

When they were done talking, Wetzel was given the chance to respond. But he did not directly admit to his estranged wife's death.

"I accept full responsibility for my own actions and my own actions only. The actions of Ms. Eakes and the various versions of the event — five or six versions — should cast doubts on the actual facts of the case," he said. "I'm sorry for what happened and accept responsibility for my own actions and my own alone."

The board member conducting the hearing then reminded Wetzel that the board at this point does not hold any presumption of innocence for his crime and that it is looking to hear what his own actions were leading up to the crime so the board can determine whether he would pose a public safety risk if released.

During the hearing, Wetzel talked about his educational achievements since being incarcerated, including earning a master's degree, and how he has had no disciplinary issues since 1995. When asked about his mental health, Wetzel replied, "I believe that I am well adjusted" and "I think I'm very stable."

When asked if he were to be released if he'd be capable of arranging someone else's murder, Wetzel again did not directly acknowledge his crime.

"I would be capable of that if that's what happened originally the first time. But if you believe the first four for five versions of what Ms. Eakes told you, and then after she was told by the board of pardons she would not get a release date unless they found out the truth or what they believed to be the truth, and then seven years later she came up with the truth, another version," he said, before eventually saying he didn't believe he would be capable to arranging another person's death.

The full five-member board will now vote whether to grant Wetzel parole.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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