An American Fork man charged in the death of his stepfather will likely go to trial on a murder charge, though two other charges against him were dismissed Monday.
Jace Zeeman, 28, was originally charged with manslaughter and two charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child for an incident that occurred in August, though prosecution later upgraded the second-degree felony of manslaughter to the first-degree felony charge of murder.
The charges stem from an incident in August in which Zeeman reportedly fought and beat his stepfather, Brandon Bourgeois. Bourgeois died days later from the injuries sustained during the encounter.
Prosecutors asked Taylor in February to increase Zeeman’s bail from $50,000 to $100,000, but Judge James Taylor declined to act on that until a preliminary hearing was held.
Multiple witnesses, including the neighbor who initially reported the incident to police and the police officers who responded to the scene, testified in Fourth District Court Monday for a preliminary hearing in front of Taylor.
Body camera footage was played from Donny Johnson with the American Fork Police Department, who was the first responder to arrive at the scene.
Johnson said he arrived at the scene and found two women and two men standing over a body on the ground. One of those men he later identified as Jace Zeeman, Johnson said, describing Zeeman as both agitated and extremely physically fit.
In the audio of the body cam, a man, later identified as Zeeman can be heard telling Johnson to start CPR on Bourgeois, and at one point saying that Bourgeois’ tongue needed to be out of his mouth while performing CPR.
Johnson testified that Zeeman was the first person at the scene to lean down and perform what appeared to be CPR on Bourgeois, though Johnson said from his training, the compressions weren’t hard enough to qualify as CPR.
Body camera footage from the second American Fork police officer to arrive on scene, Ryan Metcalf, was also played, including audio of conversations he had with Zeeman.
Zeeman can be heard telling Metcalf that Bourgeois punched him first after he stepped in to try to protect his mother, who was married to Bourgeois.
Zeeman said Bourgeois had slammed his mother in the door multiple times, and that he was standing about three feet away trying to “mediate and be cool.”
According to the body cam audio, Zeeman told the officer he told Bourgeois to relax, and Bourgeois punched him in the face, at which point Zeeman said he “just started f---ing punching him.”
Metcalf testified that Zeeman had a bruise on his cheek and abrasions on his knuckles.
American Fork Police Department Sgt. Jennifer Nakai, described the injuries sustained by Bourgeois during the fight, including an abrasion on his forehead, blood around his eyes, a disfigured nose and a swollen face.
During one of multiple interviews with the American Fork Police, Nakai said Zeeman said at one point, he had straddled Bourgeois and describes putting him in a choke hold in order to get him to stop. Nakai said Zeeman estimated he had Bourgeois in the chokehold for about ten to 15 seconds “until he went limp.”
After all the witnesses had been called, Kelsy Young, deputy Utah County attorney, asked Taylor to bind Zeeman over on the murder charge on the basis that Zeeman had knowingly or intentionally caused his step dad’s death.
“You can see from the picture that it was quite a brutal beating,” Young said, later adding that when Zeeman put Bourgeois in a chokehold, he used leverage and cut off his airway for approximately 15 seconds, showing a clear intent to kill.
There is also a clear motive, Young argued, because Zeeman disliked Bourgeois for the way he treated Zeeman’s mother.
Zeeman’s defense attorney, John Easton, argued that Zeeman did not intentionally cause Bougeois’ death, as is shown by his actions of attempting CPR on Bourgeois upon the police arriving.
“I argue there is lack of probable cause,” Easton said.
Taylor said he believes prosecutors have met the required burden of proof for the murder charge, and will bind it over. However, the two third-degree felony charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child were dismissed.
The prosecution did not prove that Zeeman had knowledge that children were in the house during the incident, Taylor said.
“The best I’ve got is he knew they might be there,” Taylor said.
Zeeman will next appear in court May 31 for an arraignment where he will enter a plea.