Attorney Shot in Courtroom After Divorce Hearing
AURORA, Colo. (AP) _ An off-duty policeman who opened fire in a courtroom after a judge had granted his divorce apparently was aiming for his estranged wife’s attorney, who was seriously wounded, an investigator says.
Gerald Lee Utesch, 44, was being held today on $250,000 bond on charges of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault. He was suspended without pay from the police force in this Denver suburb of 350,000 people and faces a Jan. 21 arraignment.
Jeanne Elliott, 37, was in serious but stable condition today at Presbyterian Aurora Hospital, where she underwent nearly six hours of surgery for gunshot wounds to the chest, abdomen, face and leg.
The shooting occurred Tuesday at the conclusion of a divorce hearing involving Utesch and his wife, Dianna, said Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan.
A foreclosure had been issued on the Utesch house Jan. 3, and Mrs. Utesch took her husband to court, claiming he didn’t make his share of house payments, Sullivan said.
Just before the shooting, County Judge Thomas Levi had granted the divorce, effective Jan. 29, and then asked Utesch to leave the courtroom with Elliott to sign papers so payments could be made on the family home, Sullivan said.
Utesch, a 16-year Aurora police veteran, refused to go with Elliott, but agreed to accompany sheriff’s deputy Richard J. Lawson, who was in the courtroom for another case, Sullivan said.
When Utesch reached the door, he turned and pulled a .38-caliber, snub- nosed pistol from a holster and began shooting at Elliott from less than 12 feet, Sullivan said.
″Everything points at this point that he was shooting at the attorney,″ Sullivan said. Utesch’s wife was 10 to 12 feet away from Elliott, he added.
Utesch got off two shots before Lawson, 35, grabbed him, and then fired twice as Lawson shook Utesch’s arm up and down, Sullivan said. Lawson drew his pistol, but reholstered it when he saw he did not have a clear shot at Utesch, the sheriff said. Lawson eventually subdued Utesch.
Sixteen people were in the courtroom at the time of the shooting.
″Everyone was hitting the floor left and right while the deputy struggled with Utesch to get the gun away from him,″ Sullivan said.
People entering the courtroom are not routinely checked for weapons, Sullivan said, adding that off-duty police officers often carry guns.
Utesch joined the police force in April 1969, and before that was a policeman in Farmington, N.M.
In a 1981 department evaluation, Utesch was rated above-average in police work.
Since 1984, when Utesch separated from his wife, he has lived in an Aurora condominium complex where he also worked as a part-time security guard.
Utesch and his wife, who works as a counselor at a shelter for battered women, have four children ranging from ages 18 to 24, and none was present when the shooting occurred, Sullivan said.