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Confession excluded from trial in ’96 slaying

Suspect’s remarks at police station called coerced

SHARE Confession excluded from trial in ’96 slaying

FARMINGTON — Statements Todd Jeremy Rettenberger allegedly made to police during a break in his interrogation will not be admitted during his murder trial, a 2nd District Court judge has ruled.

Now 21, Rettenberger faces murder and aggravated robbery charges in connection with the October 1996 slaying of Woods Cross Motel 6 desk clerk Matthew John Whicker. Whicker was shot multiple times and died in the lobby of the motel.

The Utah Supreme Court last August ruled police had used lies, threats and manipulation to coerce a confession out of Rettenberger. On Tuesday, Judge Jon Memmott ruled more of Rettenberger's dialogue with investigators would also be excluded.

Woods Cross Police Chief Paul Howard said Rettenberger implicated himself during a lunch break the day of his interrogation. While waiting in a detective's office, Howard said Rettenberger indicated a composite drawing of one of the Motel 6 suspects was him. Rettenberger also identified his car as the one spotted at the motel the night Whicker died, Howard said.

But defense attorney Todd Utzinger argued Howard misconstrued Rettenberger's alleged statements and that the whole conversation fell within the same "cycle of manipulation and coercion."

Tuesday, Memmott agreed, saying at a pretrial hearing the conversation fell within a "totality of circumstances" the high court deemed coercive and inadmissable.

"His (Rettenberger's) state of mind after the first interrogation, and before the second, was not broken," Memmott said. "The same psychological condition or coercive influence was still in effect."

Rather than providing a voluntary confession, Memmott determined Rettenberger was in "a mode of trying to please the officers, and agree with what they were saying. And he was still in that mode when the incident with the pictures took place."

Utzinger said after the hearing Memmott's ruling was significant, but that the case is far from over. He filed another motion Tuesday afternoon, to exclude eyewitness testimony. A hearing on that motion is scheduled Oct. 13.

Rettenberger's trial is expected to be held Jan. 8 through Jan. 12, 2001.

E-MAIL: jnii@desnews.com