Jury finds man guilty in killing of Idaho Falls man - East Idaho News
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Jury finds man guilty in killing of Idaho Falls man

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SALMON — The trial of a Salmon man accused of killing an Idaho Falls man in 2021 came to a close last week.

After a six day trial, Tel Pethtel, 29, was found guilty by a jury of the voluntary manslaughter of 32-year-old Jon Kesterson in 2021.

Pethtel was indicted on the felony voluntary manslaughter on Dec. 9, 2022, and initially pleaded not guilty.

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Pethtel’s defense attorney, Roger Hoopes, tells EastIdahoNews.com the trial was split into two parts for procedural purposes, with part one dealing with one count of felony voluntary manslaughter and one count of felony alteration and/or concealment of evidence, both of which Pethtel was found guilty of.

The second part of the trial dealt with two felony charges for unlawful possession of a firearm and a felony count for being a persistent violator, both of which Pethtel pleaded guilty to during the trial.

According to court documents, Pethtel was convicted of felony burglary out of Idaho in 2014, and convicted of felony coercion out of Oregon in 2019.

Trial coverage

During the trial, the prosecutor with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, Pendrey Pauline Trammell, explained to the jury she believed Pethtel killed Kesterson after getting in a fight over Pethtel crashing a pickup truck.

“Mr. Pethtel crashed that truck into the tree, which is what you saw earlier. That sparks an argument,” said Trammell. “The rifle comes out with Mr. Pethtel. They’re yelling at each other, and eventually it gets kind of physical. And Mr. Pethel, you’ll hear, fires that rifle.”

Jon Kesterson
Jon Kesterson | Facebook photo

Trammell also explained to the jury that Pethtel moved Kesterson’s body after his death, and failed to call for help when he realized what he had done.

“(Pethtel) didn’t leave Mr. Kesterson’s body where it was. He didn’t go to call for help. He never called 911. And he certainly didn’t report it to police when he made it down into Challis the next day,” said Trammell. “He made no effort to let the police know what had happened that night. Not a single one, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll hear that Mr. Kesterson’s body was dragged about 60 feet down this embankment.”

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Pethtel’s defense, led by attorney Roger Hoopes, postponed their opening statement until after the prosecution had called all their witnesses and presented their evidence, leaving their statements brief.

“Right now, this is my opportunity to address you, and tell you a little bit about our case,” said Hoopes. “The evidence is pretty much already presented. My case is going to be on behalf of Pethtel.”

Guilty Verdict

On Nov. 8, after deliberation, the jury came back with a unanimously guilty verdict.

District Judge Stevan Thompson scheduled the sentencing for Jan. 17 at 1 p.m.

Pethtel faces up to 30 years in prison for all charges including the one he was convicted of, and ones he pleaded guilty to.

After the jury’s decision was read, and Pethtel pleaded guilty to the additional charges, Hoopes brought a motion in front of Thompson, asking that Pethtel be released from custody until sentencing.

“Your Honor, if it would please the Court, I would ask for a motion to have (Pethtel) released from custody on his own recognizance. I think I’ve made my position reasonably clear before, and he has never given any indication that he would do anything but comply with the court’s order,” said Hoopes. “He’s complied with pretrial services and and he’ll be here for sentencing on the 17th of January.

Thompson denied the motion, saying that because of the nature of the charges, he couldn’t release Pethtel to the community.

“I don’t take these decisions lightly. And, you know, it’s easy for me to say I understand the consequences and the impacts they have on people,” said Thompson. “I feel like with the very nature of the charge and the potential penalties, it warrants the court placing Mr. Pethtel in custody at this point.”

Background of the case

On Oct. 18, 2021, the Lemhi County Sheriff’s office received a call about a crash in the Panther Creek Road area. When deputies arrived, they discovered the body of Kesterson down an embankment and into the trees.

Investigators say Pethtel, Kesterson and an unnamed woman were together when Kesterson died. They later discovered Pethtel was driving the pickup truck.

Deputies eventually located Pethtel and the woman about 10 hours after Kesterson died.

According to them, Pethel and someone in the pickup got into a disagreement. They got out of the pickup and started fighting, according to court documents.

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“At some point during that altercation, Pethtel claimed a .22 magnum handgun went off and (Kesterson) was struck with a bullet and died,” police reports state. “Pethtel also fired a .22 magnum rifle three times during this brief time period.”

The two went to a hunter’s camp in the area to get a ride to a family member’s home where they stayed afterward. Deputies say Pethtel and the woman never contacted authorities about Kesterson’s death.

Later on, the two went to Challis, where Pethtel burned a pair of pants with blood on them, according to court documents. The two then took showers, destroying the blood and DNA evidence on their bodies.

Pethtel also took the boots he wore during the shooting and hid them in a building under a tarp, according to court documents.

When deputies contacted the two around 6 p.m., Pethtel pointed them toward a .22 caliber rifle hanging on a gun rack at the home. Investigators also recovered the handgun used in the shooting.

Pethtel is not legally permitted to have guns because he is a convicted felon in Oregon and Idaho.

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According to court documents, he and the woman said they kept the guns belonging to a family member to protect themselves from wolves and for everyday carry because they were in a wilderness area.

“Each felt their safety from wolves outweighed the felony conviction restrictions of Pethtel in regard to firearm possession,” the probable cause statement reads.

Deputies say Pethtel then tried to fabricate a story about what happened.

He sent Facebook messages to others, saying (name redacted) became intoxicated and upset. The messages then said (name redacted) drove away from the house in the truck with the ATV and a .22 handgun.

“That was the last time either Pethtel or (name redacted) had seen (name redacted) and they had no information as to his whereabouts when contacted by law enforcement on this date,” the affidavit reads. “The Facebook texts were an attempt to cover up Pethtel’s and (name redacted) involvements in this vehicle accident and apparent unlawful death scene.”

Pethtel was taken into custody and booked into the Ada County Jail before being transferred to the Lemhi County Jail.