FARMINGTON — Jury selection began Monday in the long-delayed trial of Todd Jeremy Rettenberger, who is charged with murder and robbery in connection with the 1996 Woods Cross slaying of a Motel 6 clerk.
Rettenberger, who has been in jail since November 1996, is charged with murder and aggravated robbery, both first-degree felonies.
Second District Judge Jon Memmott told a courtroom packed with more than 60 potential jurors on Wednesday that because the case is so serious — and because it is a murder trial — they would be assigned numbers to protect them and their privacy.
Jurors waited for nearly the entire morning while attorneys spoke behind closed doors. The judge then permitted jurors to leave after they had been sworn in and completed a questionnaire.
The trial is scheduled to run through Jan. 11.
The victim, Matthew John Whicker, 30, was a motel clerk who suffered multiple gunshot sounds and was found dead in the motel lobby. Police said $499 was missing from the till. Whicker was working at the motel to pay his way through college and support his family, which included a wife and two young children.
The legal process surrounding the case has been a revolving door of potential defendants, recently discovered eyewitnesses, expert witnesses and an appeal regarding a confession by Rettenberger that reached the Utah Supreme Court.
Prosecutors charge that Rettenberger, now 23, was one of a group of people who killed Whicker and robbed the motel on Oct. 29, 1996.
Charges have been dropped against three other defendants due to lack of evidence.
Another defendant, David Jonathan Valken-Leduc, 22, was charged with Whicker's murder in November 2001, after prosecutors said new evidence had emerged in the case. He is scheduled to appear before 2nd District Judge Michael Allphin on Feb. 20.
Rettenberger at one point told police he committed the crime, but in August 1999, the Utah Supreme Court ruled the confession had been coerced by police so it should be thrown out.
One witness, Barbara Dalling, testified in 2000 that she saw Rettenberger in the motel and later leaving in his car on the night of the murder. Another witness, Michelle Kelly, who was driving past the motel, testified that she had seen Rettenberger run from the motel and drive away.
But University of Utah psychology professor David Dodd testified it was unlikely that Dalling's memory of the suspect could be correct after so much time had elapsed. He also testified that he thought Kelly had such a brief glimpse and in such poor lighting that her observations were not reliable.