Utah Supreme Court upholds guilty plea in BYU professor’s murder

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court will not allow a man to withdraw his guilty plea in the 2009 murder of a retired Brigham Young University professor.

Benjamin David Rettig (Image via Utah Dept. of Corrections)

In a ruling handed down Wednesday night, the state’s top court rejected an appeal by Benjamin Rettig, who ultimately pleaded guilty to the murder of Kay Mortensen. Rettig sought to change his guilty plea for the slaying just before he was sentenced and got a new lawyer, who then withdrew that motion. Rettig appealed both, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.

“We do not reach the merits of these claims because we conclude that we lack appellate jurisdiction to address them given that Rettig failed to preserve his claims by not withdrawing his guilty plea until after sentencing,” Justice Thomas Lee wrote.

Rettig and Martin Bond were ultimately convicted in the kidnapping and murder of Mortensen. In 2009, the men traveled from Vernal to Spanish Fork, where they tied up and robbed Mortensen. The two also tied up Mortensen’s son, Roger, and daughter-in-law Pamela (they were once accused of the crime, but later exonerated). Mortensen had a large number of guns in a “bunker” behind his home that the men wanted. Rettig held a gun to Mortensen’s head while Bond slit his throat.

While the Utah Supreme Court unanimously upheld Rettig’s guilty plea and refused to allow him to withdraw it, the justices disagreed on the analysis to reach it. In her own opinion, now-retired Justice Christine Durham declared: “I have grave concerns about the route the majority takes to get there. It has altered our jurisdictional analysis, the way we view our common law of preservation, and the way we interpret every statute and procedural rule with a time restriction.”

“The majority’s opinion could have many unforeseen consequences in future cases,” she wrote.

Read the Utah Supreme Court ruling here: