A group of Salt Lake County residents were looking for a drug dealer named "Francisco" when they bound the occupants of homes in Orem and Provo and ransacked the houses for drugs and other possessions, according to testimony Wednesday in 4th Circuit Court.
The preliminary hearing is the second for four of six suspects accused in the April 13 incident. The first hearing, held in May, was put on hold when defense attorneys raised legal questions about whether they could cross-examine their clients about statements made in confessions.That issue is no longer valid, however, because one suspect has agreed to a plea bargain that calls for him to testify against the others.
Ronnie Ray Wakefield, 31; Lori Wakefield, 30; Ricardo Serna, 18; and Joseph R. Meraz, 17, are each charged with four counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated burglary, two counts of theft and one count of robbery. Firearms and gang enhancement provisions are included in the charges, which means the defendants would spend at least nine years in prison if convicted.
Ernest C. Waldeck, 35, faces the same charges, but his case is on hold pending a determination of his mental competency.
Kevin J. Butterfield, 19, also faces the same charges, but Utah County Deputy Attorney John Allan said Butterfield has agreed to plead guilty to two first-degree felony charges. In exchange for his testifying, prosecutors will drop the other charges and the firearms and gang enhancement provisions.
Police believe the six suspects burst into a Provo home occupied by Patricia Smith and Brent Jackson, bound and a gagged six occupants and stole guns, stereo equipment and drugs. They then drove to the home of Linda Cannon in Orem, bound her with duct tape and stole drugs, money and jewelry.
Provo Police Capt. George Pierpont testified that Serna signed a statement admitting that he and several others went to a southwest Provo home during the early morning hours of April 13 believing "Francisco" was staying at the home. When they discovered "Francisco" was not at the home, they decided to rob the home anyway.
Serna's statement says the occupants were bound while the home was ransacked. The suspects stole three guns, about one pound of marijuana and some "crank."
Cannon testified that she was awakened early April 13 by someone pushing her face down into her pillow. The person placed a "cold, round-feeling" object against her head and threatened to kill her.
Several other suspects entered the room and asked her where she kept cocaine, Cannon testified. She told the suspects she had no cocaine, but she directed them to about $1,300 of other illegal narcotics, jewelry and cash. She testified that she saw the reflection of one man in the mirror, which she identified in court as being Meraz.
She was later blindfolded, gagged and bound with duct tape, she testified. After she was bound a woman suspect tried to remove three rings from her hands. When the rings didn't come off easily, one suspect threatened to cut her fingers off.
"I thought I was going to have my fingers cut off," she said.
The suspects eventually used hand lotion to remove the rings from one hand, she said.
Cannon is currently undergoing a diagnostic evaluation at the Utah State Prison on unrelated drug charges. Smith and Jackson also have a history of drug-related charges.
The preliminary hearing will resume Friday when Butterfield is expected to testify.