Last Accomplice Enters Guilty Plea to Motel Murder

Last Accomplice Enters Guilty Plea to Motel Murder

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Nearly nine years after a botched robbery left a Woods Cross motel clerk dead, the last of three men charged in the killing has entered a guilty plea, avoiding a trial and possible murder conviction that might have sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

After two-days of jury selection for his trial, Elliott Rashad Harper cut a deal with Davis County prosecutors and pleaded guilty Friday to a lesser, third-degree felony charge of homicide by assault.

Harper, 25, now faces a sentence of up to five years in prison. Sentencing is set for May 19 in 2nd District Court.

As part of their agreement, prosecutors will recommend Harper get credit for the 14 months he served in jail following his arrest.

Harper entered an Alford plea, maintaining his innocence but acknowledging that prosecutors likely have enough evidence to convict him.

Last year at an earlier trial, a jury voted 7-1 in favor of convicting Harper for the slaying of Motel 6 clerk Matthew John Whicker, but the deadlock forced a new trial.

"I've never had such a long, twisted case," deputy county attorney William McGuire said. "It's good to have it over."

Whicker's widow, Katrina Whicker, called the surprise plea "an adrenaline rush."

"I would rather have a guaranteed Ûzero to five years in prisonÝ, than play a week of Russian roulette" at trial, she said.

Only one of Harper's two co-defendants is incarcerated for the killing.

David Valken-Leduc, 26, was convicted of murder last year and is serving a five-year-to-life sentence in prison.

A second accomplice, Todd Jeremy Rettenberger, originally confessed to killing the 30-year-old Whicker, but the Utah Supreme Court later said the confession was coerced. Rettenberger spent five years in jail awaiting trial, and then told police he acted as the lookout and getaway driver for Valken-Leduc and Harper.

In a deal with prosecutors, Rettenberger was freed, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and agreed to testify against the two other men.

Three other people were also initially charged in Whicker's murder, but their cases were dismissed for lack of evidence.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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