Logan • A 17-year-old boy pleaded guilty Tuesday to shooting 14-year-old Deserae Turner in the back of the head in February, leaving the girl with lifelong injuries.
Colter Danny Peterson pleaded guilty in 1st District Court to first-degree felony aggravated attempted murder and a reduced second-degree felony count of robbery. A count of obstruction of justice was dismissed.
Peterson will be sentenced after a February trial for Peterson’s co-defendant, 16-year-old Jayzon Decker. A status hearing for Peterson is set for Jan. 29.
On Tuesday morning, Judge Kevin K. Allen read an account of what happened the night of the Feb. 16 shooting of Turner. Allen asked the teenager if he had read the account and if he admitted to the facts of the case.
The courtroom was tense and silent as Peterson hesitated, then responded, “I do,” his voice cracking. He held a tissue in his chained hand and wiped his eyes occasionally as the judge read the plea.
Turner sat between her parents while the judge read the plea and listed the girl’s extensive injuries suffered from the shooting. She had walked in slowly, with a cane and a brace on her lower leg.
After the hearing, the girl’s father, Matt Turner, called the plea “a step toward justice for Deserae.”
“Our daughter continues to struggle,” he said, straining to get through the words printed on a piece of paper he held in trembling hands.
His voice broke and he paused, before continuing: “Sorry. She works every day to gain as much quality of life as she can. But her life will never be the same.”
The state is seeking the stiffest possible sentence, Cache County Attorney James Swink said Tuesday. Even with the plea, Peterson faces the possibility of 15 years to life for the aggravated attempted murder. However, the judge can reduce the sentence to 10 years to life or six years to life.
“Colter wants to take responsibility for what he did,” defense attorney Mike McGinnis told news reporters. “You saw his remorse today.”
Prosecutors also requested that the cases of Peterson and Decker be separated. The judge agreed to the motion.
Peterson is accused of firing the bullet that struck Turner in the back of the head. Decker encouraged his friend to shoot, according to prosecutors.
The boys have been held at a juvenile detention facility since the February shooting. In that detention center, they were able to eat together, sleep in the same area and go to school together, according to Swink.
That would provide them opportunities to talk about the case, Swink said.
“In every case, judges encourage and ask us to not have our witnesses talking together, to provide the integrity of the justice system,” Swink said, noting that Peterson is expected to testify at Decker‘s trial.
In May, a judge denied bail for both boys, ruling that the boys are a substantial danger to the public. A juvenile court judge moved the two boys’ cases to adult court in May. They face the same potential penalties as if they were adults.
The boys allegedly lured Turner to a Smithfield canal Feb. 16 under the guise of selling her a pocketknife. The original plan was to slit the girl’s throat with knives each boy brought, according to charging documents. Prosecutors allege Peterson fired a single bullet into the back of Turner’s head, at the encouragement of Decker.
After the shooting, the boys left Turner in a ditch and allegedly took cash and electronics from the girl’s backpack.
After his arrest, Peterson told police he had become annoyed with Turner for texting and contacting him through the messaging app Snapchat, according to preliminary hearing testimony. Decker told Peterson it would “be pretty easy to get rid of her,” a Cache County sheriff’s deputy testified. From there, the boys allegedly plotted Turner’s death.
Turner’s parents reported her missing after she did not return home from school. Two women who knew her family discovered the girl that evening, while searching near the canal. They covered her with their coats, the women testified, and called 911. Medics initially thought Turner needed treatment for hypothermia, according to testimony. Later, they found the gunshot wound.
The shooting left the bullet and several fragments in Turner’s brain. The girl’s mother has said that her daughter suffers from partial blindness, as well as paralysis and weakening on the left side of her body. Turner was hospitalized for nine weeks before returning to her home in the town of Amalga to recover.
The two defendants are Smithfield residents and attended Sky View High School. Turner attended North Cache Middle School in Richmond.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify juveniles charged with crimes until they are certified to stand trial in adult court, as Peterson and Decker have been.