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Victim of Provo River Trail rape recovering slowly

Published September 15, 2010 11:51 am

Court • Suspect could face life without parole.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Prosecutors say a 19-year-old woman beaten and raped on the Provo River Trail is on a long road to recovery.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Donna Kelly said Wednesday the victim has had numerous surgeries to reconstruct her face and is having difficulty speaking.

Doctors thought she might be able to see only shadows following the attack, but her eyesight is improving and she can see more than that, Kelly said.

Medical bills for the woman's care total more than $100,000, said Kelly, and her mother is caring for her full time at home.

"The victim ... is gradually improving, but it's a long road," Kelly said.

Defense attorneys on Wednesday asked a judge to continue a hearing scheduled for Shawn Michael Leonard, who is charged in the crime. Prosecutors agreed to hold the hearing Oct. 6, saying that would give the victim more time to recover.

Leonard is accused of choking, beating and raping the Utah Valley University student June 9 on the trail near Branbury Apartments where she lived. He allegedly tied up another woman later that day at Riverwoods Shopping Center and stole her car.

Prosecutors say Leonard, who was arrested three days later, had walked away from a jail work-release program the previous day. He had been sentenced in February by 4th District Judge Christine Johnson to six months in jail for retail theft and drug possession, and then by 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock in March to three years of probation and 180 days on additional charges of retail theft.

Leonard allegedly wrapped a cord around the throat of the 19-year-old student, dragged her into a thicket near the trail, raped her and beat her head with a large rock and a piece of concrete.

When she awoke, Leonard allegedly choked her back into unconsciousness with the cord. He then left her there. She eventually was able to crawl out of the woods and was hospitalized for serious injuries to her eye, teeth, jaw and cheek. She has since been released.

Police linked Leonard to the crime, in part, because his jail-issued ankle bracelet was found at the crime scene.

Kelly has said that she will seek life without parole if Leonard is found guilty of aggravated kidnapping. While Utah law sets a mandatory 15 years-to-life sentence for aggravated kidnapping, Kelly said the law permits life without parole because of the severity of the victim's injuries.

pmanson@sltrib.com