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Mother of St. George murder victim 'chained to the past' by court delays

Published February 19, 2013 7:38 pm

Courts • Her daughter was murdered in 2010, but St. George woman is no closer to closure.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

St. George • Ellen Hensley can't move on.

Her 20-year-old daughter, Jerrica Christensen, was murdered in 2010 inside a St. George apartment. But more than two years later, Hensley says she still hasn't found closure as the two men charged in relation to Christensen's murder — Paul C. Ashton, 33, and Brandon P. Smith, 31 — wind their way through the legal system.

Tuesday was no different.

Hensley sat in the 5th District Courthouse Tuesday morning, wearing a white T-shirt with a picture of her daughter printed on the front, as she watched Ashton waive his preliminary hearing — a hearing that has been postponed several times since the 2010 murders of Christensen and another woman, Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden, 27.

"You can't move forward if you are constantly chained to the past," Hensley said outside of court Tuesday. "We're chained to court. You can't plan vacations. You can't know if there is going to be a hearing."

Ashton waived his hearing Tuesday morning because a resolution in the case is near, according to Deputy Washington County Attorney Brian Filter.

Ashton will appear in court on April 17 for a review/resolution hearing, where it is possible he will accept a plea deal.

Filter would not discuss the plea deal that is on the table for Ashton, or whether it will involve Ashton testifying against his co-defendant at trial.

Smith also was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Tuesday. But his hearing was continued because Ashton's possible plea deal could affect his case. Smith will return to court for a review hearing on April 17.

Ashton has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, along with attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and possession of a controlled substance, a third-degree felony. Smith faces one count of aggravated murder and one count of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.

According to charging documents, Ashton shot and killed one of the women inside an apartment at 575 S. Main St. on Dec. 11, 2010, and also shot and wounded a man, James Fiske.

Smith is accused of killing the other woman — who died as a result of "incised wounds" — to keep her from testifying, according to court documents.

Though Hensley said the proposed resolution is good news, she is still frustrated that Tuesday's hearing never happened, and that Smith's case will be delayed once more.

"It's the direction I would like it to go," she said. "I would much rather it be pled out, as long as the plea is sufficient to the act, than to have to go through the torture of trial."

Filter said Tuesday that prosecutors were planning to hold the preliminary hearing up until Friday when discussion of a plea deal and waiver of the hearing came closer to reality.

Ashton's attorney, Aric Cramer, has previously said that his client was helping when he allowed Jerden and her boyfriend, Matt McNee, to stay at his townhouse. Cramer said Ashton then asked Jerden and McNee to move out shortly after they settled in, believing they were stealing items from him.

Christensen and her friend, Fiske, were asked to help with the move. It was while they were moving out that the scene got tense. Ashton called Smith and told him he was "in fear for his life," according to Cramer.

Cramer said when Smith arrived, he gave Ashton a .357 Magnum and kept a 9 mm handgun for himself.

Tensions continued to escalate, according to Cramer, until Jerden allegedly hit Ashton in the head with a toolbox. Ashton allegedly shot and killed her with the .357, then allegedly fired at Fiske, wounding him in the shoulder.

Cramer said Smith found Christensen in the bathroom and stabbed her at least three times.

Officials have not established a motive for the attack.

jmiller@sltrib.com Twitter: @jm_miller