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Plea deal in motel slaying

Agreement tacks 5 years onto 5 years man has served

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Five years ago, Matthew Whicker was gunned down in a Woods Cross Motel 6 lobby where he worked.

One of the men accused of the murder, Todd Jeremy Rettenberger, 23, who was set to go to trial today in the case, accepted a last-minute plea agreement after spending five years in the Davis County Jail awaiting trial.

Rettenberger, who had been charged with murder and aggravated robbery, both first-degree felonies, entered a plea to manslaughter, a second-degree felony. The robbery charge was dropped.

Rettenberger entered a so-called Alford plea, which means he does not admit the crime but acknowledges the state has substantial evidence against him.

As part of the agreement, Rettenberger accepted having another five years tacked onto the potential sentence of 1-to-15 years in prison. He will get credit for the five years he already has spent in jail.

Whicker's mother, Rea Whicker, said she and her husband, Ben, were relieved and surprised by this late development.

Now they won't have to endure a trial, someone has been brought to justice for their son's death, and Rea Whicker hopes that Rettenberger will help prosecutors bring in the rest of the young men who she believes were part of a group of five to seven people who participated in the crime.

"We would welcome the opportunity to get more information he could give us so the rest of them would pay the consequences for their actions and hopefully not do anything again," she said.

So far, Rettenberger is the only one who has paid a price for the crime, while the others are free and out in society, she said. "It's pretty scary."

Davis County Deputy Attorney William McGuire said the plea bargain came as jury selection was under way.

"We feel comfortable with this," McGuire said. "This case has a really interesting history. Some of the evidence which the judge ruled we could get in could be subject to appeal. This takes that element out of the equation. It gives some finality to it."

Rettenberger will be sentenced Jan. 29.

The victim, Matthew Whicker, was working his way through college at the motel and another job, as well as supporting his young family that included a wife and two children, who are now ages 7 and 10. He was shot several times Oct. 29, 1996, and was found dead in the motel lobby.

His mother said Whicker, who was 30 when he died, was a wonderful person and an ambitious man. He served an LDS Church mission in Michigan, was a Gulf War veteran and, while in the Army, was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., to study Russian. He resumed his Russian studies at the University of Utah, also studied social work and was four months from graduating when he was killed. He also had been working toward getting a commercial pilot's license.

"He was really a go-getter. If he could help anyone, he would always be there. We really miss him, that's for sure," Rea Whicker said.

Charges against three other defendants in the case were dropped for lack of evidence. However, prosecutors in November brought a murder charge in this case against David Jonathan Valken-Leduc. He will appear before 2nd District Judge Michael Allphin on Feb. 20.

E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com