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Juror: Unanswered questions, inconsistent stories led to Marc Jenson's acquittal

Marc Sessions Jenson, left, and his brother Stephen R. Jenson sit in court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.
Marc Sessions Jenson, left, and his brother Stephen R. Jenson sit in court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.
Al Hartmann

SALT LAKE CITY — When it came to the fraud case against Marc Sessions Jenson, there were too many unanswered questions to convict him, according to one juror.

"We do believe morally what was done was wrong … but you can't find someone guilty for having bad morals," said Britni Fetten, who served as forewoman on the five-man, three-woman jury.

The jury deliberated about 15 hours, focusing on analyzing affidavits, emails and financial records contained in the massive pile of documents submitted in the case, Fetten said. When they looked for reasonable doubt, they found it.

"We found a lot of inconsistencies with the state's witnesses," Fetten said. "A lot of things didn't match up. … The state had a very hard time convincing us Marc Jenson was guilty on these charges."

Jenson, a former millionaire and convicted federal felon, was charged with communications fraud and money laundering in the wake of a failed ski and golf resort development in Beaver County. He was found not guilty late Friday.

The Mount Holly Club, pitched as a lavish getaway on 2,000 acres in the Tushar Mountains, was meant to renovate the former Elk Meadows resort. Plans included selling 1,200 building lots starting at $1 million each, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a ski area managed by Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety. Jenson said the development would repeat the success of the Yellowstone Club in Montana.

While the business floundered, costing investors the money they had paid for million-dollar memberships to the club, jurors were not convinced Jenson and his brother Stephen had sought to deceive them or to hide Marc Jenson's criminal background.

"There's no doubt in our mind that Marc and Stephen Jenson really wanted this project to work. They really had faith in the Mount Holly project. We really believed that," Fetten said. "We also believe the victims in this case could have done the research, and when they claim they had no information about Marc Jenson's past, that's very hard for us to believe."

Additionally, they could not escape the unanswered questions that remained as several individuals named in Marc Jenson's testimony — former Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, as well as Mount Holly associate Tim Bell — did not take the witness stand.

"It was a very, very tough. We felt like there were pieces of the case missing because we couldn't have a few witnesses testify," Fetten said. "We felt like we were missing a lot of key points in the case."

Whether those testimonies would have changed the verdict, "I guess we'll never know," Fetten said.

Shurtleff and Swallow are facing their own criminal charges centered around Marc Jenson, who claims they shook him down for money and favors during a trip to the posh Southern California villa where he was living in 2009.

The Utah Attorney General's Office, led by Shurtleff, initially filed charges against Marc Jenson but removed itself from the case in 2013. Defense Attorney Marcus Mumford sent subpoenas to Shurtleff, Swallow and Bell to testify during the trial. Their lawyers filed objections, which 3rd District Court Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills upheld.

Additionally, Fetten called Marc Jenson "a great witness," who was warm and personable as he testified.

Another question that remained as the jury deliberated was the fate of Stephen Roger Jenson, who had been charged alongside his brother, Marc Jenson. Stephen Jenson accepted a plea deal partway through the trial, pleading no contest to reduced charges. The jury was simply told his case had been resolved and he wouldn't be returning to the trial.

"I felt like, as a juror, maybe that would have changed our decision if we had known that," Fetten said. "I'm sure that would have made a huge impact on our decision."

Stephen Jenson will be sentenced March 30.

Despite the not guilty verdict, Marc Jenson remains in prison serving a 10-year sentence in a 2008 case. Jenson took a plea in abeyance, which he claims was crafted behind the scenes through a go-between of Shurtleff's, to charges of securities fraud. He was imprisoned in 2011 when he failed to pay some of the $4.1 million restitution in the case.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero