Lewis and Clark Valley News

Suspect cleared of N. Idaho woman's murder, public left uneasy



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A man who was arrested for the brutal murder of a 78-year-old woman in her own North Idaho home Saturday, walked out of jail a free man this morning after being cleared by an alibi.

Late last week Bonner County residents were shocked to hear the news that the sheriff’s office was searching for a murder suspect without notifying the public first.

Already frustrated by the sheriff’s office handling of the situation, many residents are now terrified that the killer may be still at large after the release of Utt on Wednesday.

“Everytime my dogs bark now I’m like ‘what did they hear that I didn’t?'” said Mary Franzel, one of many people living in fear in Bonner County.

“I spoke with someone yesterday who lives in Hope who was really frightened after they found out, the wife said she didn’t sleep at all that night, and they had a gun on their bedside table. And once they said they had the gentleman, everyone relaxed.”

The early Saturday morning arrest of 41-year-old Nathan Utt appeared to be the end result of a PR strategy by the Bonners County Sheriff’s department. After learning of the alleged murder, the office didn’t notify the public, worrying that the subject of their manhunt would know he was being tracked.

However Wednesday morning, four days after the arrest, a talk with Utt proved the strategy was doomed from the jump.

Bonner County undersheriff _____ Lakewold explained that, “Mr. Utt provided information that we were able to verify that placed him in Eugene, Oregon. So we chose to, through the prosecutor’s office, have him released at this time.”

The key evidence against Utt was an eyewitness who incorrectly placed him near the Ramey house at the time of last week’s murder. Now, with no one in custody, the Sheriff’s Office is trying to be as transparent as possible with the public.

“I won’t say that this is an isolated incident yet, because we’re still developing information, but it doesn’t appear that this is somebody out just randomly selecting victims,” said Lakewold.

For Franzel, that isn’t enough to ease her concerns. “I mean the guy could be in California now for all we know, but where is he and why aren’t we getting kept abreast?” she wondered.

Despite Bonner County’s honesty Wednesday, many are still reeling from the previous week’s secrecy.

“I think there’s a real issue with the community not being notified. That we have a right to know, and I want to know why we weren’t notified,” said Franzel.

The Bonner’s County sheriff’s office said Wednesday they had not eliminated anyone but Utt as a suspect, and they will continue to explore all possibilities.

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