By Michael D. Olsen, Emery County Attorney
Emery County Sheriff’s Office dispatch received a welfare check call just before 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 17, 2016, to the Maxwell residence in Orangeville. Upon entering the residence, 55 year-old Richard Maxwell was found holding a gun to his body. Mr. Maxwell fired one shot to his torso. He was transported to a hospital for treatment. Mr. Maxwell was positive for alcohol with a high blood alcohol concentration of .192.
During a search of the residence, the body of Mr. Maxwell’s wife, 47 year-old Kristi Maxwell, was discovered. There was no obvious or apparent cause of death so the matter was placed under investigation. It appeared the victim had been deceased for several hours.
The body of Kristi was transported to the State Medical Examiner for an autopsy. Upon examination the examiner could not determine a cause of death and informed law enforcement that a full report would be forthcoming.
With no known cause of death and a full report to be forthcoming, further investigation and lab test results were necessary. If charges had been filed and an arrest made prematurely, constitutional rights would attach and time lines would be imposed without having the benefit of a completed investigation. Moving forward without full reports could have compromised the ability to obtain a conviction. Double jeopardy provisions in the constitution would prevent him from being tried twice for the same crime. It would be imprudent to file charges before the case is ready. For example, the defendant would have been entitled to his first evidentiary hearing within 10 days of his first court appearance. Toxicology reports take much longer than 10 days. If the evidence is insufficient, the case could be dismissed.
Not being ready to take Mr. Maxwell immediately into custody, authorities had no choice but to leave Mr. Maxwell in the care of his health care providers, family and friends. All relevant parties were aware of the facts and circumstances surrounding his hospitalization and law enforcement authorities could only assume his physical and mental health issues would be addressed there before he was released. Law enforcement had no legal authority to proceed any differently.
After Mr. Maxwell was released from the hospital on or about August 8, 2016, Emery County detectives attempted to make contact with Mr. Maxwell to offer him the opportunity to tell his side of the story and conduct an interview. Detectives were unable to make contact with Mr. Maxwell and left messages for him with family and friends. Later that day, Emery County Sheriff’s Office dispatch again received a welfare check call to the residence where Mr. Maxwell had been staying. Upon arrival at the home, Mr. Maxwell was found deceased with a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A full report of examination was recently received from the Office of the Medical Examiner regarding the death of Kristi. The report states that Kristi was found on the bed with her clothing partially removed in a compromising manner. She was found to have abrasions on her face and extremities. Toxicology results were negative, meaning Kristi was not under the influence of any alcohol or other drugs. There were no indications of a suicide.
None of the findings described, alone, would be life threatening. Accordingly, the official cause and manner of death are certified as undetermined. However, the Examiner agrees that the totality of the circumstances strongly suggest a homicidal act had taken place. The Emery County Attorney’s Office and Emery County Sheriff’s Office agree with the Examiner that considering the totality of all of the circumstances, criminal charges would have been filed against Mr. Maxwell had he not passed away. It would then be for the trier of fact to determine guilt.
From the very beginning, this case was treated as a homicide investigation. Authorities released a short summary of the facts outlining the highly suspicious circumstances surrounding her death. The media reported extensively and in reviewing those articles, along with posted comments, there does not appear to be any real confusion by the public that it was a homicide investigation.
A news release sent to media outlets from authorities clearly stated “Richard Maxwell was the only person of interest in the death of his wife.”
Emery County Sheriff’s Office conducted the investigation thoroughly and with a high level of skill. No material mistakes were made in this homicide investigation.
Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies are statutorily limited on what can be said while investigating a crime. All defendants are presumed innocent. Rule 3.6 & Rule 3.8 of the Rules of Professional Conduct state that a prosecutor shall exercise reasonable care to prevent investigators, law enforcement personnel, employees or other persons assisting or associated with the prosecutor in a criminal case from making any extrajudicial statements that the prosecutor knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.
Having those constitutional and statutorial requirements in mind, law enforcement authorities make their best effort to provide basic facts of the case while not crossing the line that will violate the law and prejudice the case. Family members and friends can sometimes struggle with these rules. The media is generally aware of these limitations, but they have no responsibility if this law is violated. Prosecutors must try to balance these often competing interests. Ultimately, their duty is to dispense justice and not allow competing interests to interfere with the criminal investigation and a successful conviction.
Local and statewide news outlets have criticized local residents for creating a hostile environment of gossip, suggesting the community as a whole was not concerned about Kristi or the Maxwell family. Kristi was loved and respected in this small community, many are personally impacted by her passing. We should remember that our community has suffered a devastating loss. Family and friends are trying to move on while stricken with grief and under tremendous stress.
Law enforcement authorities make their best attempts to work with families of victims during these difficult times. Family members do not always agree among themselves on how certain situations should be handled. In this case, Heidi Young, Kristi’s daughter was designated by the family as the official family representative. At the conclusion of the case, she was asked about law enforcement’s handling of the case. Heidi stated she feels County Attorney, Mike Olsen, treated the family well and she largely agrees with how the matter was handled. She wanted the truth to come out and understood there was a legal process to follow. Most of the family communication was through the Sheriff’s Office and Heidi stated “Sheriff Funk has been wonderful.” She further stated he answered her phone calls and was always polite and upfront. She appreciated being able to talk to him when she was in need.
The Emery County Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office would like to express our deepest condolences to the Maxwell family and friends.