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Jail, not prison, for Utah man guilty of girlfriend’s 1996 death

First Published      Last Updated Jul 15 2016 06:18 pm

A judge on Monday sentenced a Utah man to jail — not prison — in connection with the 1996 death of his live-in girlfriend.

Billy Justin Charles had entered an Alford plea to one count of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in August.

The plea was not an acknowledgment of guilt, but recognized that Salt Lake County prosecutors likely had enough evidence to secure a conviction at trial.

Jamie Ellen Weiss, 18, was found dead and submerged in the bathtub of the couple's Magna home on Aug. 7, 1996 — one day before the couple planned to marry.

An autopsy found she had died from blunt force trauma to her head and asphyxiation, and there was no water in her lungs.



"I'd like to say I am sorry to Jamie's family, to my family and most of all to our son, Jesse," Charles told the court before he was sentenced. "If I could give my life for Jamie's, I would."

Charles, now 39, was convicted by a jury of first-degree felony murder in 2007. But the conviction was overturned by the Utah Court of Appeals in 2012 and sent back for a new trial.

In his appeal, Charles claimed his defense attorney failed to present evidence that would have exonerated him.

Instead of a second trial, the case was settled with the plea deal.

Under the terms of the plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Charles — who has been incarcerated since his arrest in 2007 — not go to prison, but instead serve an additional year in jail, followed by three years of probation.

Third District Court Judge Mark Kouris agreed to the recommendation, imposing a sentence of one to 15 years in prison, which was then suspended in favor of 365 days in jail, plus probation.

Kouris also ordered Charles pay nearly $25,000 in restitution, attend 90 days of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and complete a mental health evaluation with an emphasis on domestic violence.

Prosecutors and the family of Weiss told the judge that Charles has a history of domestic assaults on women, including girlfriends and family, as well as a witness in the original case.

"If you choose to hit a woman again, it's a ticket to the penitentiary," Kouris said.

Charles got no forgiveness from the three members of Weiss' family who addressed the court on Monday. Rather, they implored him to address his issues with women and use the chance he is getting to avoid prison to change his life.

"I will never forgive Billy for the hurt he has caused, unless one day he [can] man up," Weiss' sister, Andraya Perrine said. "This is his chance to be the person my sister hoped he would be, instead of the monster he was."

Deborah Nelson, Weiss' mother, told Kouris she had battled the legal system for years trying to get justice for her daughter. To survive the pain, she said she had turned to meditation and forced herself to separate the murder from the man, his ego and his need for control.

"Billy, stripped from his ego, is a man who has harmed himself," she said.

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