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Utah Republican activist facing rape charges found dead after jail release

By Jennifer Dobner

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A Utah Tea Party activist and Republican fundraiser charged with more than two dozen felony counts of rape and sexual assault has died from an apparent suicide just four days after he was freed from jail on bail, his attorney said on Wednesday.

Greg N. Peterson, 37, was found dead in his remote Heber City-area cabin, in the mountains about 50 miles east of Salt Lake City, by two bail bondsmen late on Tuesday, defense lawyer Cara Tangaro said.

An initial investigation indicates Peterson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Wasatch County Sheriff Todd Bonner said at a news conference Tuesday night. The death remained under investigation.

The cabin was the site of Peterson's annual Rocky Mountain Conservative BBQ - an annual summer fundraiser initiated in 2010 for Republican Party luminaries, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and the state's governor, Gary Herbert.

Peterson was arrested in July and charged by Salt Lake County prosecutors with 25 counts sexual abuse, assault, rape, sodomy and kidnapping. The charges stem from allegations that Peterson had attacked four women he met through an online dating site for Mormons or at church-related events.

Wasatch County prosecutors filed a similar sex abuse case against Peterson in August after a fifth woman came forward.

Peterson, a financial planner, had denied the allegations, although he had not yet entered a plea in either case. On Friday, Peterson had posted bail of $2 million and was released from jail.

The bail bondsmen went looking for Peterson on Tuesday after something went awry with the signal from his ankle monitor and no one was able to reach him by phone, Tangaro said.

"We were worried that something was wrong," Tangaro told Reuters on Wednesday. "We had been having contact with Greg daily since his release."

Peterson had no known medical history that put him at risk for suicide and had not displayed any signs that he was in distress, Tangaro said. Peterson had felt, however, tremendous pressure from media coverage of the case, which he believed had unfairly demonized him, she said.

"I think the thought that he may not overcome that image, no matter the outcome of his case, was very difficult," Tangaro said. "We were absolutely shocked by (his death)."

Tangaro said she does not believe Peterson's apparent suicide should be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

(Reporting by Jennifer Dobner; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Beech)

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