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Officer shoots, kills intruder who stabbed Salt Lake woman, police say

SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake police officer shot and killed a man early Wednesday after he allegedly broke into at least two homes and stabbed a woman.

Robert Richard Berger, 48, was shot and killed inside a house at 850 S. Roberta St. (240 East).

Berger had just been released from the Utah State Prison last week on Sept. 15. He had served more than 14 years at the prison.

Police released few details about Wednesday's shooting, which is being investigated by the Unified Police Department.

The incident began just after midnight when a woman inside a nearby apartment got out of bed to get a drink in the kitchen and heard a noise at the window.

"She heard some guy started rattling the window. I was asleep. She came and got me. I came running in there and he's about halfway through the window," said the woman's boyfriend, Mark Widlund.

When Widlund entered the kitchen and saw Berger, he attempted to grab a hammer out of a tool bucket on top of the refrigerator but Berger knocked it out of his hands, he said. That's when the girlfriend grabbed a lamp and "pretty much jousted him out the window," Widlund said.

"She decided the lamp was the best bet," he said.

The woman's 2-year-old daughter was in a bedroom and was unharmed, he said. The couple called police as soon as Berger was pushed out the window.

Widlund said Berger was wearing khaki pants and no shirt and looked "bound and determined" to get inside. The intruder didn't say a word during the confrontation.

Other neighbors told Widlund that Berger had tried to break into another house prior to reaching his apartment.

As the responding officer was driving up to the apartments to talk to the residents, another neighbor flagged him down and told him that a 28-year-old woman was being attacked inside the nearby home at 850 S. Roberta, said Salt Lake police detective Richard Chipping.

"I could hear screaming and I could hear a gunshot, and that was it," said Widlund, who had gone outside by that time.

Widlund's upstairs neighbor, William Piper, said he could hear the woman screaming from the house that she had been stabbed. He later saw her legs in the doorway. Piper said he heard one shot fired.

The officer went inside the house, confronted Berger and shot him, Chipping said. Berger also allegedly climbed through a window to get into that house.

The woman who was stabbed was taken to a local hospital in serious condition.

Several questions remained unanswered Wednesday, including how many people were home at the time the woman was attacked, why the woman was stabbed, whether the two homes Berger attempted to enter were random, and whether Berger was still attacking the woman when he was confronted by the officer.

Berger had a lengthy criminal history, including an escape and carjacking incident in 2000 that received media attention.

Berger, while in police custody, escaped from a doctor's office while being checked for an injury. Over the next four hours, Berger carjacked a vehicle, kidnapped a woman and kept police who were looking for him hopping until they finally caught up with him and took him back into custody.

"I'm not going to hurt you, but I got to get out of here," he told the kidnapped woman, according to charging documents.

He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, and attempted theft, a third-degree felony, in 2002. In exchange for his pleas, charges of aggravated kidnapping and escape from custody were dismissed.

He was sentenced to five years to life in prison for the aggravated robbery conviction. A judge ordered that sentence to run concurrent with his five-year sentence in a separate case of theft, two counts of attempted theft and criminal mischief.

Berger ended up staying in prison from Sept. 27, 2000, until June 17, 2014, when he was paroled. He violated parole several times, however, and was returned to prison, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Adams. He most recently returned to prison on Aug. 14 and was released last week on Sept. 15.

Berger was also sentenced to up to five years in prison in 2000 for stolen vehicle and fleeing-related charges. He was convicted in 1994 of aggravated assault and burglary.

Berger was released to the Fortitude Treatment Center, also known as the Parole Visitor Center, to "stabilize as he transitioned to the community," Adams said. He was last seen at the center on Sunday when he checked out for a "medical appointment." He failed to return Sunday night and a warrant was issued for his arrest Monday.

According to the Department of Corrections' website, the Fortitude Treatment Center "allows struggling offenders to remain in the community under parole supervision rather than return to prison. … In the facility, the offender is subject to tighter restrictions and intensive treatment programs aimed at addressing underlying issues causing him to struggle."

Widlund said he is thankful that no one was injured.

"It's just crazy. I don't know what to think. I'm still shaking," he said. "What's still going through my head is what if we didn't wake up and he was in my house?"

Contributing: Peter Samore


Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam