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Father, son get venue change from Daggett

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Prosecutors and two sets of defense attorneys have agreed that a change of venue is in order for Lewis Francis Heffelfinger and his son, Michael David Heffelfinger, who are charged with fatally shooting two deer hunters in the hills near Dutch John.

If 8th District Judge John Anderson signs an order including stipulations from all the attorneys, the proceedings would then be moved from Daggett County to Wasatch County. The presiding judge in the 4th District will then appoint a new judge to oversee the proceedings.

Daggett County Attorney Dennis Judd said all the various lawyers involved agreed to the venue change during a teleconference call Friday.

Judd said prosecutors wanted the change because of the time and money involved in litigating the venue issue alone, which would be financially burdensome for a small community such as Daggett County.

"From our standpoint, we recognized that it was likely that venue would need to be changed, and it would delay the process to fight about it," Judd said.

Ken Brown of Salt Lake City, a defense attorney representing Lewis Heffelfinger, shared the concern about public finances.

Brown, and other defense attorneys, also worried that it might be difficult to get an unbiased jury pool since the two men who were killed, Kelly Jack Carter, 27, and Brad Wesley Gross, 23, were well-known and well-liked in the general area.

"Realistically, with Daggett County having 900 residents, it's unfair to that county and certainly unfair to our clients to expect to get a trial there," Brown said. "When considering moving it, you have to consider where to, and we made the agreement to move it to Wasatch County."

Daggett County takes part in the Capital Defense Fund, to which smaller counties contribute financially to pay defense attorneys needed for death-penalty cases.

Whether the two men will be tried separately has yet to be determined, according to both Brown and Judd.

Lewis Heffelfinger, 54, and Michael Heffelfinger, 24, both have been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, which are capital crimes, and two counts of first-degree felony aggravated robbery.

The charges stem from the Oct. 21, 2001, murders of Vernal residents Carter and Gross, who were hunting with a third companion around Dutch John near Flaming Gorge Reservoir. A pickup truck belonging to one of the dead men also was stolen.

Police said they spotted the Heffelfingers, who are from New Mexico, on U.S. 6 near Price. The Heffelfingers were chased by sheriff's deputies from Carbon County and police from Price, and eventually fled the truck they were driving after it was disabled by tire spikes placed in the road. The Heffelfingers were found sleeping in a shed after a nearly two-day police search.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com