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SALT LAKE CITY -- Prosecutors vowed Monday to move forward against 21 defendants, in spite of the stunning suicide of the chief witness against them.
The cases stem from a two-year investigation into trafficking of stolen Native American artifacts. Last week's suicide -- the third connected with the case -- raises a blizzard of question marks over upcoming trials.
Some say Ted Gardiner was haunted by the suicides of two suspects he fingered. Others say upcoming trials for 21 defendants overwhelmed him with pressure.
Prosecutors have never officially confirmed Gardiner was their undercover informant, but they did confirm in court the unnamed informant is now deceased, as of last week.
Monday, a magistrate scheduled six separate trials as defense lawyers reacted to the chief witness's suicide.
"We don't know what that impact will be at this point. We're certainly researching whether or not we have an effective right to cross-examine that witness. That's something I think all of us in this case will look at," said defense attorney Richard Mauro.
Prosecutors say the suicide may change trial strategy, but they told the magistrate they plan to press forward.
"Our intention is to marshal our evidence, to respond to any motions that are filed, and to proceed with the trials," said Carlie Christensen, acting U.S. Attorney for Utah.
As a paid FBI informant, Gardiner secretly recorded hours of video and audio.
"That confidential informant was involved in every one of the cases, was basically the source in setting everybody up," said defense attorney David Finlayson. "There's a lot of issues that has come out of that."
The defense strategy will be two-fold. First, they may file motions to limit the use of evidence the informant collected because its legal status is unclear.
"A law professor wouldn't be able to tell you right now. That's what we're going to be fighting about, right?" Finlayson said.
Second, they're demanding the government divulge more information about the dead informant.
"We want to know anything that would be exculpatory to our clients," Findlayson added.
Prosecutors won't discuss evidence or the informant.
"Obviously, we think the cases can proceed, and we intend to move forward in that direction," Christensen said.
The trials begin in May, with several different judges who will rule separately on any motions to limit the evidence.
With three suicides, this was already a complicated, emotional drama. A complex legal drama is just getting started.