Vernal » Leo Harrison paused on Tuesday, thinking of how to explain what motivated his son to accept money to beat a pregnant teenager in an attempt to cause her to miscarry.
Aaron Harrison's circle of friends started influencing his decisions when he turned 18, his father said after a judge handed down a prison term to the now 21-year-old.
Harrison delved into petty theft. Then he got into trouble for having sexual relationships with minors. But Harrison's most shocking behavior, his father said, came in May: the day he accepted $150 from a 17-year-old pregnant girl he casually met at a Naples 7-Eleven and brought to the basement of his parent's house, where he kicked her in the stomach five times and bit her neck.
The 7-month-old fetus survived, Harrison was charged, and on Tuesday 8th District Judge A. Lynn Payne ordered him to serve up to five years in prison for the beating.
Leo Harrison said prison is the reality check his son, who is about to become a father, needs.
"I really hope he learns the meaning and value of life," Leo Harrison said, after attending Tuesday's sentencing with his 17-year-old son and parents.
"He says he is [sorry], but I don't think he is. He needs to take responsibility."
Harrison, of Naples, was also sentenced Tuesday in four other unrelated cases -- three of them third-degree felonies. Payne ordered the terms to run consecutively, meaning Harrison could serve up to 20 years behind bars.
The judge called Harrison's conduct in the beating case "horrible beyond description" and said he had "a remarkable disregard for human life."
"I don't think words can describe the kind of depraved conduct you entered into in trying to take the life of a child," Payne said.
In the beating case, Harrison had pleaded guilty to second-degree felony attempted murder, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. But Payne instead sentenced Harrison under Utah's anti-abortion statute, saying a charge of third-degree "attempted killing of an unborn child" better fit the facts of the case.
Deputy Uintah County Attorney Mark Thomas objected to the change, arguing Harrison's confession to police after the beating proves he viewed the situation as attempting to murder the fetus. Thomas pointed to a handwritten statement Harrison gave police that reads in part: "She started to ask me if I knew anyone to kill the kid for her and I said, 'No, I didn't."
"The term used by the defendant was 'to kill' the child," Thomas said, arguing the definition of homicide includes causing the death of another human being, including a fetus at any stage of development.
Thomas called Payne's decision to substitute the charge "unusual" and said his office will appeal.
"This was not an abortion. This was an attempt to kill another human being as defined by [Utah's] homicide statute," said Thomas.
Payne replied in court that it is his job to "apply the law that I think applies to the case."
Harrison did not speak in court Tuesday; neither did the victims in his cases. The girl told police she solicited Harrison to assault her after her boyfriend threatened a breakup if she didn't terminate her pregnancy.
The girl, who gave birth in August, pleaded no contest to second-degree felony criminal solicitation to commit murder. Eighth District Juvenile Court Judge Larry Steele ordered her placed in secure confinement until she is 21.
But earlier this month, Steele reversed himself and released the girl after an attorney argued she did not commit a crime. Utah law states that a woman cannot be held criminally liable for seeking to obtain an abortion for herself.
The girl, who is now 18, is seeking custody of the baby. She declined comment on Tuesday, citing instructions from her attorney to not speak about the case.
Harrison's father said his son's actions have been "very traumatic" for his family. He said he did not know Harrison had taken the girl back to his house until his son was arrested.
» Two counts of third-degree felony unlawful sexual activity with a minor for having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl in 2008.
» Class A misdemeanor violating a protective order for calling the same girl, who is due to give birth to his child next month.
» Third-degree felony burglary and class B misdemeanor counts of theft and criminal mischief for driving two others to a storage facility, where items were stolen from 10 units in April.
» Class A misdemeanor obstructing justice for assisting others who had stolen a 1994 Chevy pickup in 2008 get rid of evidence by dumping the engine over a ledge this year.