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District attorney fires veteran prosecutor

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Kent Morgan

Kent Morgan

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller fired longtime prosecutor Kent Morgan on Monday, but Morgan plans to contest the termination.

Morgan said he was directed to Miller's office Monday at what he termed a "kangaroo court" and was accused of leaking information to one of his friends who is facing criminal charges — a claim that Morgan denies.

"I stayed away from my friend's case," Morgan said. "I referred him to an attorney and didn't discuss the case with him at all, and maintained my friendship."

Miller declined to comment personally.

"It is county-wide policy and, by extension, the district attorney's policy, to not comment on personnel matters," said Nate Bryan, spokesman for the district attorney's office. "Kent is still employed with the office and being that he is an employee, our policy is that we don't comment on personnel issues."

Morgan is a "merit employee," which means there must be just cause for getting rid of him. Firings can be brought before the county's personnel review board.

Morgan, a Republican as is Miller, ran against her in 2006 for the office of district attorney. He was ousted from the race at a GOP convention so the pair did not face off in the primary. Miller went on to defeat Democratic candidate Sim Gill, who is the Salt Lake City prosecutor.

Morgan has worked for the district attorney's office for 24 years and handled a number of high profile cases, the most recent of which was Floyd Eugene Maestas, who was given a death sentence last month by a jury for beating and stomping a 72-year-old woman to death in 2004.

Morgan's work in the district attorney's office has varied over the years, and at one time he was the public information officer as well as a prosecutor. Among the high-profile cases he has handled are:

• Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Eileen Barzee, who are charged with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart in 2002, along with several other charges. Their respective cases are ongoing and are taking considerable time due to questions regarding each individual's mental health.

• Roberto Arguelles, a serial killer who pleaded guilty in 1992 of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing four women. He asked to be executed and an execution was scheduled, but he died in prison of natural causes.

• Richard Worthington, a man who burst into Alta View Hospital in 1991 with guns and explosives, held the building's occupants captive for 18 hours and killed a nurse. He pleaded guilty, later tried to appeal and proved to be a problem prisoner in Utah. He was transferred to prison in Nevada where he committed suicide.

• Michael Scott DeCorso, who was convicted of the 1996 murder of a woman who worked at a shoe store in West Jordan, and who ultimately pleaded guilty to raping and assaulting four other women. He is serving a life sentence without parole.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com