Man ordered to stand trial for murder in deaths of 2 Eagle Mountain toddlers playing in a corral

May 20, 2024, 7:40 PM

A 4th District judge on Monday ordered Kent Cody Barlow, a man charged with causing the deaths of t...

A 4th District judge on Monday ordered Kent Cody Barlow, a man charged with causing the deaths of two Eagle Mountain toddlers, to stand trial for two counts of murder. (Salt Lake County Jail)

(Salt Lake County Jail)

PROVO — A 4th District judge on Monday ordered Kent Cody Barlow, a man charged with causing the deaths of two Eagle Mountain toddlers, to stand trial for two counts of murder.

Two 3-year-old boys, Odin Jeffrey Ratliff and Hunter Charlie Jackson, were playing a horse corral and were killed when a car left the road and veered into Cedar Valley Stables on May 2, 2022.

Judge Robert Lund ordered Barlow to stand trial for two counts of depraved indifference murder, a first-degree felony, and one count of possession of a controlled substance, a class A misdemeanor. Lund said during a hearing on Friday that because of the significance of the case, he would issue a written rather than oral decision.

Barlow, 28, was initially charged with two counts of manslaughter rather than murder and was ordered to stand trial on those charges on July 28, 2022, by Lund. Several months later on March 13, 2023, prosecutors amended the charges, enhancing manslaughter to murder, a first-degree felony.

‘Depraved indifference’

Before deciding whether there was sufficient evidence to order Barlow to stand trial on the upgraded charges, Lund listened to evidence during four days throughout February and March. He also reviewed written arguments and listened to attorneys during a hearing on Friday.

Deputy Utah County attorney Ryan McBride argued Barlow’s actions meet the requirements for “depraved indifference murder.”

Benjamin Aldana, Barlow’s attorney, said the law for depraved indifference requires an action to be “specifically directed” at the person who is killed, and Barlow wasn’t aware of the toddlers. He said if someone had been visible, or if there was a home there instead of stables, maybe the depraved indifference statute would apply.

“That statute doesn’t apply here,” he said.

Lund’s decision says at 7:16 p.m. on May 2, 2022, Barlow lost control of his car and crashed it into Cedar Valley Stables. Lund says there were “at least 20 people” at the facility, mostly children learning to ride horses, and the facility is visible from several miles away.

“The single-car accident created a large debris field. Before colliding with the covered horse stalls, the car passed through multiple layers of fencing. … The car hit the structure with such force that it tore all the supporting beams out of the ground. With no support, the roof on the structure collapsed,” the order said.

It said the stable’s roof collapse killed both boys.

Two Eagle Mountain children were killed when speeding driver crashed where they were playing. A judge ordered the driver to stand trial for murder in the two boys’ deaths on Monday. (Photo: Utah County Sheriff)

Three others who were in the car with Barlow testified that he was driving at a high rate of speed and ran a stop sign.

“All of them told (Barlow) multiple times to slow down. (He) ignored their pleas,” the order says.

It said GPS data from one of the passengers’ phones shows Barlow accelerated to 123 mph immediately before the crash and left the road traveling at 117 mph — the speed limit is 45 mph.

“(Barlow) took no precautions to minimize the risks that his driving posed to other people. To the contrary, his failure to heed the demands of his passengers to slow down and obey traffic laws together with his ingestion of a powerful mind-altering drug exasperated the risks his behavior posed to others,” the order says.

It said a blood draw at the hospital showed Barlow had consumed “a large amount of methamphetamine” at some point before the crash.

Shortly before the crash, Barlow had been doing doughnuts in a field next to a baseball practice, a coach testified, and caused concern that he might hit someone. Other drivers also reported seeing a car move very quickly.

Lund’s order said Barlow “created a highly likely probability” of death.

Odin Jeffrey Ratliff and Hunter Charlie Jackson, both 3 years old, were hit and killed by a car that crashed into the corral they were playing in in Eagle Mountain on May 2. A judge ordered the driver to stand trial for murder in the deaths of the children on Monday. (Photo: Cedar Valley Stables)

The law for depraved indifference murder was modified two days after the crash that killed the two toddlers, changing the definition from causing “the death of another” to causing “the death of the other individual.”

Aldana has claimed this change created a new defense, but Lund said he finds the earlier version of the statute applies because the amendment was not made retroactive to incidents that happened before the law was changed.

Motion to disqualify Lund

On Sunday, ahead of the decision to order Barlow to stand trial, Aldana filed a motion asking Lund to recuse himself from the case. He said Lund’s insistence on holding the trial for Barlow in September shows he is not impartial, as Aldana contends he may not have enough time to prepare Barlow’s defense.

Lund set the trial in September before knowing whether the trial would be for manslaughter or murder, while the preliminary hearing was scheduled for January, the motion said. The January hearing was delayed to February and March after Aldana tested positive for COVID-19. It wasn’t until Monday that Barlow and his attorney learned whether the trial would be for manslaughter or murder, Aldana said.

When Aldana said Friday that there might not be time to prepare for the trial by September, Lund said he has known about the trial for a while. He told Aldana the trial dates were “firm.”

Aldana’s motion said the case history shows Lund “holds a bias against Mr. Barlow” and his defense team.

“The fact that the court has repeatedly required that a trial setting be in place for this case … says something,” he said.

Aldana said requiring a case to go to trial four months after Barlow was ordered to stand trial will negate his right to a fair trial in the double-murder case.

This is the second time Aldana has made a request for the judge to recuse himself in this case.

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Man ordered to stand trial for murder in deaths of 2 Eagle Mountain toddlers playing in a corral