KSL INVESTIGATES

Courtroom audio sheds light on case at the heart of Utah County controversy

Jun 10, 2022, 10:28 PM | Updated: 11:27 pm

UTAH COUNTY – The Utah County Attorney and Sheriff took shots at each other last week over a child sexual abuse investigation recently announced by the Sheriff’s Office.

In dueling press conferences on June 1, prosecutor David Leavitt called it a political attack on him, while Sheriff Mike Smith refused to name suspects or link the case to Leavitt. Both discussed a case that was filed in 2012, and later dropped in 2014, all before Leavitt was elected to his current office.

The day before, the Sheriff’s Office had made a vague announcement about an investigation into ritualistic child sexual abuse. Leavitt then called a news conference and shared that he was named in a 151-page document labeled as a “victim statement” that was connected to the 2012 case. The statement names Leavitt and more than a dozen others as part of a group alleged to have practiced ritual sexual abuse of children.

Now, courtroom audio recordings obtained by the KSL Investigators provide more insight into the dismissal of 18 felony child sexual abuse charges against a Utah County man. In an effort to protect the privacy of the woman who came forward, KSL is not naming the man who was charged.

“Those charges were dismissed by my predecessor because the allegations were so untenable and unbelievable,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt said the allegations are “100% false,” but when pressed about details surrounding the dismissal of the case, admitted he had not reviewed the casefile himself. He said the records are not digitized and would take several days to locate.

“I will make those files available to the extent they are allowed under the law,” he said. “I have nothing to hide.”

According to online court records, the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors can still refile the charges. When questioned Friday about the effort to locate the old records, a spokesperson for Leavitt’s office said he was traveling and could not immediately provide answers.

During his news conference, Leavitt said he discussed the case with David Sturgill, the prosecutor who was assigned to the case 10 years ago and still works in the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

“He told me they dismissed it because the evidence was so outlandish,” Leavitt said.

But Leavitt’s statements about the dismissal don’t quite line up with what attorneys said in court.

“The allegations are some of the worst allegations of sexual abuse that I’ve come across in the many years that I’ve been prosecuting these types of cases,” Sturgill said during a hearing in May 2013.

During that same hearing, the defense attorney representing the man charged also discussed the seriousness of the case and the need for a thorough investigation.

“If Mr. […] is convicted of these charges, he will never see the light of day,” said Michael Esplin. “I mean, these are – he’ll be there for the rest of his life in prison.”

During a hearing in March 2014, Sturgill moved to dismiss the charges, with a plan to possibly refile the case in the future.

Neither attorney shared concerns during the hearing that the allegations were outlandish or unbelievable. Instead, they pointed to the several-years delay in reporting by the alleged victim, and difficulty in obtaining records.

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done with this case, and it’s just not coming together,” Sturgill said. “I’m getting resistance from DCFS… and then there’s other medical records that we’re having some trouble gathering. A lot of it’s due to just the age of this case. It’s an extremely delayed disclosure.”

Esplin sought – unsuccessfully – to have the case permanently dismissed, citing similar challenges that he believed would prevent his client from having a fair trial.

“Witnesses have passed away, records have been shredded, just because of the nature of the length of the time that’s gone on,” he said. “I don’t believe this case will ever be ready to be tried.”

Why the case was never refiled and what will happen with it now are questions that remain unanswered, but the sheriff says the current investigation has expanded beyond one case.

“We have new victims coming forward,” he said.

The man once charged in the case has recently filed to have the court records expunged. The Attorney General’s Office has filed an objection to the expungement request, saying, “The petitioner is currently the subject of an on-going criminal investigation by four law enforcement agencies into the same conduct which was the basis of the 1999 arrest.”

The Utah County Attorney’s Office has also filed an objection.

Smith has said the current investigation will continue, regardless of whether the 2012 case is expunged.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Courtroom audio sheds light on case at the heart of Utah County controversy