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Prosecutor: Prison sentence for Utah teen should stay

Published June 4, 2014 3:20 pm

Courts • He says the boy's defense attorney was not ineffective in the robbery case.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The prison sentence handed down to a 16-year-old South Ogden boy last month was not illegal and should not be reversed, prosecutors argued in court papers filed Tuesday.

On May 7, Cooper Van Huizen stood before Ogden's 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones for sentencing after pleading guilty to two second-degree felony robbery charges.

Though attorneys and Adult Probation and Parole recommended jail time and a lengthy probation, Jones told the teen the recommendation was "too soft" for his crimes, and sentenced the boy instead to two one-to-15 year prison terms — ordered to run concurrently.

Since the sentencing, Van Huizen and his parents have fought it, saying they did not receive solid legal advice from the boy's defense attorney, Roy Cole. A new defense attorney has asked Jones to reconsider the sentence and allow the teen to withdraw his guilty pleas.

But Deputy Weber County Attorney Brody Flint opposed both motions, arguing in court papers that Cole was not ineffective, because he negotiated a deal for Van Huizen that took a mandatory minimum prison sentence off the table.

Flint argued that with violent felony and gang enhancements, Van Huizen would have faced a minimum of 11 years to life in prison on each of the three original charges — two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated burglary, all first-degree felonies — adding up to a potential minimum of 33 years in prison, if convicted at trial.

"Mr. Van Huizen's current term does not even approach what the minimum mandatory could have been without his prior counsel's tough negotiations," Flint wrote. "His counsel negotiated a deal that was very generous and beneficial to his client."

Even though prosecutors had recommended jail time, rather than a prison term, Flint argued that Van Huizen's sentence should not be reversed. He noted that in the plea agreement that Van Huizen signed, there was a paragraph that specifically stated that the judge was not bound to sentence him according to the recommendations.

Prison spokeswoman Brooke Adams said last month that prison officials planned to move Van Huizen to a county jail. She said Wednesday that the teen had been in the Daggett County jail since May 23.

Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen said Wednesday that Van Huizen is one of about 80prison inmates housed at the county jail. He said the jail has a contract to house prison inmates, and that he personally screens the prisoners that they do hold in their facility. He said he doesn't allow inmates with gang affiliations or violent offenders to come to his jail.

Jorgensen said Van Huizen is now held in a general population housing unit with 13 other inmates.

"People need to know that we are taking care of him," Jorgensen said. "He's in a good place ... We're going to be attentive of his needs and hopefully do some good for him."

On Nov. 19, a group of teen-aged boys — the youngest of whom was Van Huizen — entered a Roy home, and held two people at gunpoint. According to one victim's statement to police, one teen pointed a gun at his face and demanded money, cell phones and his stash of marijuana.

Van Huizen admitted that he brought two of his father's unloaded guns to the robbery, but attorney Elizabeth Hunt contends in court filings that he was not the one who pointed a gun at the victims.

Jones said during Van Huizen's sentencing that there was evidence the teens were planning six similar robberies, but Hunt argued there is no evidence implicating her client in that planning.

Van Huizen was initially charged in juvenile court, but after a preliminary hearing, juvenile court Judge Michelle Heward sent the case to adult court. Van Huizen took the plea deal in March.

Father Marc Van Huizen told The Tribune last month that they were "completely shocked" by the sentence. He said he believes his son's case should be put back in the juvenile court system.

"That would be my hope," Marc Van Huizen said. "I would want him tried amongst his peers, because of his age, because of his emotional and maturity level. That's where he belongs. He's not a threat to society like he had been portrayed. He's really a good kid."

Cole said in May that he did tell Cooper Van Huizen's parents that "there was always the chance" that their son could be sent to prison. But the attorney noted that a codefendant, 17-year-old Joshua Dutson, took the same plea deal and Jones sentenced him to 210 days in jail.

And another teen involved in the robberies, 19-year-old Tomek Perkins, pleaded guilty to second-degree felony counts of attempted robbery and burglary and was sentenced in April to 180 days in jail.

"We were expecting [at most] 210 days," Cole said of Van Huizen's sentence. "When the judge came back with two 1-to-15 [concurrent prison sentences], we were more than shocked."

The cases of another two teens are still pending in 2nd District Court, according to court records.

No court date had been set in Van Huizen's case as of Wednesday.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller