OGDEN — With a large contingent of Matthew David Stewart’s supporters looking on, a judge scheduled the first public airing of the evidence against Stewart in a fatal shootout with police.
Second District Judge Noel Hyde set Stewart’s preliminary hearing for July 18-20 on charges from the Jan. 4 gunfight that left one officer dead and five wounded.
Hyde set the schedule during a 30-minute hearing Monday morning, when he also set a May 14 status conference.
The full courtroom was separated by bailiffs, with one side for the largest group of Stewart’s family and friends to show up for his hearings to date.
An equal number of about 20 friends and relatives of the officers was also on hand.
Hyde is enforcing a strict decorum order that includes locking the doors to the courtroom while all hearings are in session, which is rare, court observers say. A KSL/Deseret News reporter was late and was not allowed in for the hearing.
Stewart faces the death penalty on an aggravated murder charge in the death of Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agent Jared Francom as the strike force served a search warrant on Stewart’s Ogden home.
He is also charged with seven counts of attempted aggravated murder for the five wounded officers and two others he is accused of shooting at.
The three days set aside for the preliminary hearing is the longest time in recent memory for a preliminary hearing, which is a mini-trial to ensure evidence is sufficient to advance a case to trial.
Among other Weber County death penalty cases still pending, Jeremy Valdes’ 2010 preliminary hearing took less than a day on charges in a Roy 2009 double homicide, according to court records, while Jeremy Marshall’s preliminary hearing last week in the December 2011 death of an infant lasted barely three hours.
Preliminary hearings for Jacob Ethridge in a 2008 double killing and Riqo Perea for a 2007 double homicide each lasted less than a day.
Stewart did not comment during Monday’s hearing.
However, his father, Michael Stewart, told reporters after the hearing that prosecutors, through public statements and court documents, are trying to unfairly label his son as a terrorist and pedophile to cover the flaws in their case.
He also noted that a website established by family members to raise funds for Stewart’s defense has received a necessary permit from the state and is again accepting donations. Approximately $9,000 has been raised to date.
“We have limited resources. That’s why we’re turning to others for help,” he said. “The county can spend all the money they want.”
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys for Stewart commented following the hearing.
“We’re not talking at all,” Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said as he walked past the group of reporters and news camera operators.
Stewart said his son avoided post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in the military in Saudi Arabia, “but he’s probably got it now.”