BOX ELDER COUNTY – By Cari Doutre – July 28, 2020
The Box Elder County Attorney's Office has released an exclusive statement to The Valley Headliner - BRVNEWS.com, after filing a motion in court last week indicating that county prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in a 2019 fatal shooting.
Jonathan Mendoza Llana, 46, of California, is accused of fatally shooting Dennis Gwyther and injuring another in a May 2019 shooting on I-84 near Snowville.
“The Box Elder County Attorney’s Office felt compelled to seek the death penalty in this case given the particularly egregious nature of the attack. This act of violence was not only completely random and unprovoked, but it involved the targeting of two victims, which resulted in the death of Mr. Gwyther. The Box Elder County Attorney’s Office believes that these facts evidence a depravity deserving of the death penalty.” – Box Elder County Attorney’s Office, July 28, 2020
According to court documents, Gwyther, 50 of Salt Lake City, was driving northbound on I-84 on May 22, 2019, along with a passenger, when Llana allegedly shot the two men with a high-powered rifle. The incident happened along a stretch of the interstate known as Rattlesnake Pass.
Court documents in Idaho state that Llana led law enforcement agencies on a two-day manhunt. He was found in Cassia County, Idaho, after crashing his vehicle into the Raft River. Documents added that Llana is being accused of breaking into a house and stealing an all-terrain vehicle. A 911 call from a juvenile in Idaho led authorities to Llana where he was later found and arrested.
Before Llana was extradited to Brigham City to face aggravated murder charges, among others, Cassia County’s District Court charged him with felony counts of grand theft and fleeing from police. His arraignment for those charges occurred on June 18, 2019. Llana pled not guilty to Cassia County’s charges.
Llana was later charged in Utah’s First District Court in Brigham City with eight first-degree felony counts including aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and six counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm.
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In October 2019, Llana was declared not competent to stand trial in Utah. Five months later in March 2020, that decision was reversed after Llana sought treatment at the Utah State Hospital and was later deemed competent to stand trial allowing the case to move forward.
According to various media reports, Gwyther was a well-known LGBTQ activist in Utah and was driving to Boise, Idaho when he was shot and killed.
The Utah Highway Patrol reported at the time that the shooting was unprovoked and that there had been no interaction between Llana and Gwyther prior to the attack.
Llana is currently being held in the Box Elder County Jail. His next court appearance is set for August 17.