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Convicted cop killer seeks parole after 40 years

It’s been 40 years since Brian Keith Stack pleaded guilty to murdering Utah Highway Patrol trooper Ray Lynn Pierson.
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UTAH STATE PRISON — It’s been 40 years since Brian Keith Stack pleaded guilty to murdering Utah Highway Patrol trooper Ray Lynn Pierson.

The 18-year-old was spared a possible death penalty in exchange for his guilty plea and sentenced to life in prison.

Now 59, Stack believes he is ready to re-enter society. But family members of the deceased trooper say he should serve his entire life sentence.

On Sept. 3, Stack went back before the state Board of Pardons and Parole seeking another chance at freedom.

Stack had just turned 18 when, on Nov. 7, 1978, he was pulled over on state Route 20 by Pierson for a minor traffic violation. Stack was in a stolen pickup truck, was a fugitive from Illinois and had just stolen gas in Cove Fort.

Just as the unsuspecting Pierson approached the truck, Stack shot him in the chest without warning. Pierson, 29, was able to fire off six rounds as the truck sped off, and before he collapsed to the ground where he was found by a passerby. Pierson died as a result of his injuries.

Stack was arrested following a chase and after he hit a police car set up as part of a blockade. Numerous officers fired multiple shots at the fleeing pickup in an attempt to stop it. A total of 87 bullet holes were later counted in the vehicle, including 11 in the windshield. But Stack only suffered a minor injury.

At the time he was sentenced, life in prison without the possibility of parole was not an option for Utah judges. But Clint Pierson, Ray Lynn Pierson’s oldest son, said when the judge handed down Stack’s sentence, he crossed out the word “indeterminate,” which he believes “gives us an absolute view into what he was thinking and what he was expecting,” he said in a recording of the Sept. 3 parole hearing.

As they have for all of Stack’s parole hearings, Pierson’s family was in attendance, pleading with the board not to release him.

“I think he should be held to what he agreed to,” Clint Pierson said of the deal, which spared Stack the death penalty.

Plus, after being incarcerated for four decades, “I don’t believe he could operate on the outside,” Pierson added. “I don’t think he would be capable of holding a regular relationship with people on the outside.”

Stack had a parole hearing in February. During that time, the board ordered an updated psychological evaluation be conducted. Results of that exam were not discussed at the most recent hearing.

During his last two parole hearings, board member Denise Porter noted that Stack had been a model inmate at times, but had also committed several violations over the years, including making alcohol in his cell to sell for extra money, and write-ups for minor offenses since his February hearing.

“He’s having trouble following the rules here. I think he’s going to have a lot more trouble following the rules out on the street,” Pierson argued.

But Stack said since his last parole hearing seven months ago, his cell has been searched at least a dozen times by prison officials and nothing was found.

Stack also read a prepared statement, repeating many of the points he made in February, and again apologizing to the family.

“I’d like to offer my deepest and more sincere apology to the Pierson family and everyone else who was also affected by my thoughtless, careless, and selfish actions. I was 18 years old at the time and had no idea how much pain or sorrow my actions could cause. I’m so very sorry for what I did,” he said. “I do and have taken full responsibility.”

Over the years, however, Stack has filed motions in court challenging his sentence as well as prior decisions made by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

In 1996, he was one of six Utah inmates who escaped from a private prison facility in Texas. Utah had contracted with a Texas company to send 100 inmates to that state to help alleviate overcrowding problems at the Utah State Prison. Stack was recaptured about two weeks later.

But Stack also claimed it was during a parole hearing in 1996 where he finally decided to become a better person.

“I was confronted by the sister of my victim and I was turned into a crying, blubbering idiot who couldn’t refute anything that was said,” he said.

During his parole hearing, Stack told Porter about the “hundreds” of classes and programs he’s taken since being incarcerated, including many religious programs sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As he stated in February, Stack ended his prepared speech by telling the board, “I’m no longer the 18-year-old kid whose thoughtless actions brought so much pain into so many people’s lives. And it saddens me that it took so many years to become the better man before you.”

Stack said if he is paroled, he would like to go to a halfway house first to “stabilize” in a world that is much different than when he was sent to prison.

The full five-member board will now vote on whether to grant parole. A decision is expected in a week or two.