New Twist to Motel 6 Murder Case

New Twist to Motel 6 Murder Case

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Two bloody fingerprints that prosecutors had said implicated David Valken-Leduc in the 1996 slaying of a Woods Cross motel clerk have been discovered to actually be those of the victim.

"While this change in the status of the fingerprint evidence in the case is significant, the Davis County Attorney's Office does not intend at this time to dismiss any of the charges," prosecutors said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

Valken-Leduc, 23, was charged in November 2001 in the slaying of Matthew John Whicker, 30, during a botched robbery at a Motel 6 on Oct. 29, 1996. A second man is charged as an accomplice.

The fingerprint mistake was made by Scott Spjut, a West Valley City forensic expert who died earlier this year after being shot by a rifle he was examining, The Salt Lake Tribune reported in a copyright story Wednesday.

Spjut had testified at a preliminary hearing that the prints belonged to Valken-Leduc.

After Spjut's death, the Davis County Attorney's Office asked the state crime lab to review his findings and it was discovered the prints actually came from Whicker.

Spjut's former colleagues were at a loss to explain how the mistake could have been made.

Crime scene analysts usually compare prints with those of the victim first, said Rich Townsend, director of the Utah Crime Lab.

"We're mystified as to how he came up with this conclusion with his level of training and expertise," Townsend said. "We wish he were here so we could ask him these questions."

Valken-Leduc's newly appointed attorney, Aric Cramer, said he already had been planning to raise the misidentification of the print in court.

"I thought the evidence was manufactured," Cramer said.

"I'm glad they caught it, because our first line of attack was going to be that (Spjut) had manufactured evidence in other cases," he said. He refused to give specifics.

Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Kent Morgan denied Spjut had ever manufactured evidence.

"I have never seen that," he said. "We have to be careful about making these kinds of judgments on one mistake in a man's career."

Morgan's office is investigating the circumstances surrounding Spjut's death, as are the West Valley City Police Department and the Utah Medical Examiner's Office. He said no conclusions have been drawn.

Cramer said the only remaining evidence against his client is the testimony of Todd Jeremy Rettenberger, who last year pleaded guilty to second-degree felony manslaughter.

In a deal that set him free, Rettenberger, said he had acted as lookout and getaway driver at the robbery and he agreed to testify against Elliot Rashad Harper, 23, and Valken-Leduc.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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