Charges Refiled in Killing of Businesswoman

Charges Refiled in Killing of Businesswoman

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- A murder charge has been refiled against Kerri Brown in the slaying three years ago of her employer, Pleasant Grove businesswoman Mina Pajela.

The first-degree felony murder charge was filed Tuesday in 4th District Court, Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson said.

Brown, 41, was an administrator for the Mira Vista Retirement Center in American Fork, which Pajela owned.

Authorities claim more than $40,000 was stolen from the company and they believed Pajela was killed to cover up the theft.

Citing uncooperative witnesses, prosecutors dropped murder and fraud charges against Brown in October 2002.

Pajela was killed on April 5, 2001. Pleasant Grove police found her body in a car. She had been shot once in the back of the head and left in the car, which her killer tried to set on fire. A witness pulled a flaming towel from the open gas tank of the car.

Bryson said Brown has been living in Arizona, apparently with her boyfriend, who had been an officer with the Fort McDowell, Ariz., tribal police and whose service revolver, a 9mm Glock, purportedly was the murder weapon.

Deputy County Attorney David Wayment said prosecutors hired a forensic accountant to scrutinize files in Mira Vista's computer.

Wayment said the expert found evidence that leads them to believe Brown used the center's accounting software to write two sets of checks, one to pay distributors and another Brown allegedly deposited into her sister's bank account.

"We've got just about everything we think we can get," Ragan said on Tuesday. "We're determined to go forward, and we feel strongly that we have a good case."

Brown is to return to Utah next month to face second-degree felony charges of communications fraud and money laundering stemming from the investigation into Pajela's murder.

"Because she is not going to be arrested, she will appear and be given the information that there are (murder) charges against her, and a date will be set for a felony first appearance before a judge," Bryson said.

Defense attorney Richard Gale said, "We knew it was coming.... It wasn't a big surprise, and she wants to appear and prove her innocence."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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