Death penalty possible in shooting of police

  • Mon Jan 9th, 2012 10:10pm
  • News

By Paul Foy Associated Press

OGDEN, Utah — A prosecutor said Monday he will pursue the death penalty against a man suspected of opening fire on police during a drug raid, killing one officer and wounding five others.

Matthew David Stewart of Ogden is being investigated on suspicion of aggravated murder, eight counts of attempted aggravated murder, and marijuana cultivation, Weber County Attorney Dee W. Smith said.

Stewart shot at and missed two additional officers who were trying to assist their wounded colleagues, he said.

“There were a lot of shots fired,” Smith said. “I don’t think anyone can give a number.”

Smith said he believes he has sufficient evidence to arrest and charge Stewart but won’t do so until doctors clear him for release from a hospital. Stewart was shot in a backyard shed during the gunfight.

It wasn’t clear when Stewart, a 37-year-old U.S. Army veteran, might be ready for release. His lawyer, Randy Richards didn’t immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press.

Also Monday, officials said they recovered explosive material and a picture of Stewart dressed “like a terrorist.” His father said it was a Halloween costume and the chemicals probably were for growing pot.

“They’re trying to do everything they can to discredit my son because they made some mistakes,” said Michael Stewart, 67, an investigator for public defenders in Weber County. “My son is not a terrorist.”

Ogden police Officer Jared Francom was killed in the shooting. Five other officers from the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were injured, some critically. Three officers remained hospitalized. One was in critical condition and two had been upgraded to fair, McKay-Dee Hospital officials said.

A funeral service for Francom is planned for Wednesday at a 14,000-seat arena in Ogden.

The shooting occurred as police forced their way into Stewart’s home on Jan. 4 while trying to serve a search warrant. Smith has said the strike force had tried unsuccessfully to reach Stewart before it obtained the warrant. His father called him “a little pot grower” with a handful of plants.

Details about what type of weapons Matthew Stewart may have had and how many shots were fired remained undisclosed as part of what Smith called a massive investigation. Police continue to comb the house for evidence and interview officers who responded to the shooting.

“We’ll probably never know exactly how many shots were fired,” Smith said.

Smith said that based on the length of Stewart’s beard, the photograph appeared to be recent, but added it was impossible to know whether the image held any political meaning.

Federal officials said the explosive materials were found and detonated inside Stewart’s home.

Brad Beyersdorf, a spokesman with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the material couldn’t be safely moved outdoors. He stressed that the material wasn’t a bomb but couldn’t provide a better description.

A state official, meanwhile, said there was no way to know through government records what weapons Stewart might have had in his house.

“We don’t register firearms in the state of Utah,” said Lance Taylor, a criminal background supervisor for the Utah Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

Records of gun purchases in Utah are destroyed after 20 days, he said.