OGDEN, Utah (AP) — A Utah Army veteran was found hanging dead Friday in his jail cell as he awaited trial on charges of killing a police officer and wounding five others during a raid that netted 13 pot plants and sparked a fierce debate about what happened that night.
With a trial no longer a possibility, authorities strongly refuted the previous claims of Matthew David Stewart that he didn’t know who was breaking into his home. Stewart’s father, Michael Stewart, has insisted his son was only defending himself from what he thought was a robbery.
Matthew David Stewart, 39, was found hanging from a bed sheet during a routine cell check just before 1 a.m. Friday, Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said at a news conference.
The county has referred the investigation into the death to an outside agency, and another county attorney will review it.
Michael Stewart said he doesn’t believe foul play was involved, but he accused jail officials of making his son’s life miserable and leaving his mental illness untreated.
Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson denied those allegations on Friday.
Michael Stewart said his son was despondent over a judge’s recent refusal to hold a hearing on what the family believes was an illegally obtained search warrant.
“I think he gave up,” Michael Stewart said about his son’s death. “He was depressed.”
Matthew David Stewart was accused of killing strike force agent Jared Francom and wounding five other officers when authorities descended on his Ogden home during the January 2012 raid. He could have faced the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder.
He also faced charges of attempted aggravated murder and marijuana cultivation.
Investigators have said they received a tip from Stewart’s ex-girlfriend that he was growing marijuana in the home about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City. Officers said they visited weeks earlier when no one was home and believed they could see equipment for growing marijuana in the basement.
Authorities obtained a search warrant for a drug raid on Jan. 4, 2012.
Stewart maintained he never heard the officers identify themselves and believed he was being robbed when they broke open his door with a ramming device.
Police said Stewart had not responded to a knock at the door and waited for police to enter before firing into a hallway from his bedroom.
Stewart suffered several wounds during the gun fight and was hospitalized for nearly a month.
Smith used Friday’s news conference to detail the police version of what happened that night.
“There has been a lot of noise about Mr. Stewart believing that these were intruders into his home, that he didn’t know they were police,” said Smith, speaking sternly at a podium. “The evidence is very clear that he knew exactly who he was shooting at.”
Smith said he felt free to discuss the details of the case now that there won’t be a trial.
Undercover officers involved in the raid have testified they wore jackets that said “police” on the back. In addition, Stewart was given ample opportunity to open a side door, they said.
Officers had cleared all but one room in the house when two of them walked into a bedroom hallway. Stewart fired the first of 31 shots — 17 of which hit officers, Smith said.
One officer was struck in the face. Another ducked into a bathroom and was trapped, as Francom tried to cover for him, Smith said.
Francom was struck seven times by shots fired from Stewart’s 9mm gun, and continued to be hit when he was already down, Smith said.
Ballistic reports show that every bullet that hit officers came from Stewart’s gun, the prosecutor said.
Stewart’s father said he doesn’t trust the official reports or the officers’ accounts. He believes some of the officers shot others in the chaos of the darkened house.
“He was defending himself,” Michael Stewart said of his son. “I’m not criticizing all police. There are good ones, but none will come forward in this case to tell the truth.”
Official Wire and AP