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Death penalty to be sought in Utah police shootings

By James Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Prosecutors said on Monday they will seek the death penalty against a Utah Army veteran suspected of killing one police officer and wounding five others in a shootout during a drug raid at his home.

Weber County Attorney Dee Smith also revealed a few details on a suspicious device detonated last weekend at the home in Ogden of the suspected shooter, 37-year-old Matthew Stewart.

Stewart, who remains hospitalized from wounds suffered in the shootout, is accused of firing at police officers who served a drug-related "knock and announce" search warrant at his home on January 4.

"This is a very significant event, something that I don't know that the state has ever experienced something of this magnitude," Smith told reporters. "There's a lot of lives affected, a lot of families affected."

Stewart will be charged with capital murder, which could lead to a sentence of death following a conviction, the prosecutor said.

He will also face eight counts of attempted aggravated murder and a charge of cultivation of marijuana, after he is released from hospital and booked into jail, Smith said.

The eight counts of attempted murder are based on the five officers wounded in the shootout, and others who were in the line of fire but not physically wounded during the raid, Smith said. The operation was conducted by the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, which is composed of officers from multiple law enforcement agencies in the region.

Following the shooting, investigators were seen removing from the home fluorescent light panels and PVC pipes.

Stewart was on active duty in the U.S. Army from 1994 to 1998, Army officials have said.

The gunfight in a residential neighborhood in Ogden, about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, ranks as one of the worst outbreaks of violence against police officers in Utah history.

Smith said he would not "speculate" on Stewart's possible motive for opening fire.

On Saturday, a bomb squad detonated a suspicious device at Stewart's home, but further tests are pending to determine the exact nature of the object.

"I'm not an expert, I can't tell you if it was a bomb or it was not a bomb," Smith said.

In recent days, Ogden police have been mourning the death of their colleague, agent Jared Francom, who was slain in the shootout. "A number of individuals were wounded as they were giving aid and trying to remove fallen officers from the scene," Smith said.

Ogden police officer Kasey Burrell, who was wounded, remains in critical condition at McKay-Dee Hospital Center, said Chris Dallin, a spokesman for the medical facility.

Fellow officers Shawn Grogan and Michael Rounkles are in fair condition at the facility, Dallin said.

The other two wounded officers were treated and released.

Smith said he was limited in what he could reveal about the shooting and the investigation, in part because Stewart has not been officially charged.

"This is crime scene that is massive. We've had crime scene investigators combing through this hour after hour after hour for days," he said.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Peter Bohan)