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Salt Lake Tribune: Husband's fate after hospital in question

"Person of interest": The police and prosecutors consider their possible actions when Mark Hacking is released

Tucked away on the fifth floor of University Hospital, Mark Hacking has received psychiatric care since the morning after he reported his wife, Lori, missing 12 days ago.

That hospital stay is expected to end soon, according to a hospital official.

The question is: Will police let Hacking, the only "person of interest" in his wife's disappearance, go home?

The University of Utah has an all-hours security force that is keeping tabs on Mark Hacking, but no U. police officers are on the psychiatric floor, said University police Sgt. Earl McKee. "If doctors feel he is able to leave the hospital, he is free to go," said Salt Lake City Police Detective Phil Eslinger, adding that he doubts Mark Hacking would be arrested upon his release.

If Hacking is taken into custody, prosecutors would have 72 hours to file criminal charges. But that seems premature in a case where investigators have not found Lori Hacking and are awaiting forensic testing on evidence seized from the Hackings' apartment, including small amounts of blood and a knife.

Authorities also could assign an officer to trail Mark Hacking.

Or they could do nothing and trust that their "person of interest" does not flee.

As police and prosecutors weigh their options of what to do when Mark Hacking is released, detectives, with the help of cadaver dogs, will continue boring through the Salt Lake County landfill in search of a body.

For the second night in a row on Friday, the landfill search was suspended to give the dogs a rest.

Eslinger said he did not know when the search will resume or how long it might continue.

Using backhoes, landfill employees have dug trenches up to 45 feet deep. The methodical search could take months, say police, who equate it to the proverbial needle in a haystack.

"It is a huge task," Eslinger said. "For us to be spending as much time and effort as we are, I have to say it is a fairly credible tip."

Despite the deliberate nature of the search for Lori Hacking, investigators say the case is moving forward.

"They feel comfortable with what they are doing and the direction [the case] is heading," Eslinger said.

The case is being handled by the homicide squad along with a few detectives from other units. Eslinger said these detectives are focused on building a meticulous case, not a quick outcome.

Maj. Stu Smith from the state crime laboratory lauded police for their thorough work in handling evidence and for involving forensic experts from the beginning. A good portion of that evidence was collected in the search of the apartment, which started July 19.

Mark Hacking called police that morning to say his wife never returned from a run up City Creek Canyon. Police now say they have no evidence that Lori Hacking, 27 years old and five weeks pregnant at the time, was ever at the canyon.

Investigators started to focus on Mark as they uncovered a series of deceptions. That propensity to lie was underscored in a videotape aired Friday by "Inside Edition," in which Hacking spoke to a documentary filmmaker from California two days before Lori disappeared. The footage was intended for use in a film about nurses.

First Hacking plays the "Addams Family" theme by making squeaking noises with his palms, then he talks about his college education.

"I started off in social work. No, I lied. I started in sociology," he says. "I finished my degree in psychology and yes, I do love it. And now I am moving on."

But Mark Hacking never graduated from the University of Utah. He dropped out in 2002.

He also told family and friends that he was accepted to a medical school, also a lie. He lied to his wife about the reason he was sent home early from his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission in Canada. And he told police he searched City Creek Canyon the morning of July 19, when he actually was at a South Salt Lake furniture store purchasing a mattress.

The families of Mark and Lori have stopped making public comments, but on Friday they observed a day of prayer and fasting.

They say they are planning aerial and all-terrain searches for Lori in areas where a foot search would be dangerous. Those searches, organized with police, have not yet started.

Anyone interested in assisting in the search can find information on the family's Web site, www.findlori.com.