Curtis Michael Allgier stood surrounded by attorneys and armed officers, dressed in shackles and prison orange, his arms and head as much green ink as skin.
In a half-decade of courtroom appearances, the heavily tattooed 33-year-old showed himself unafraid of making brash outbursts, but on Wednesday morning, his voice broke, if only for a second.
"I just want to make clear, the reason I'm doing this is for those people right there," Allgier said, turning his body slightly and flicking his handcuffed wrists toward the rows of people sitting on one side of a 3rd District courtroom.
The family of Stephen Anderson sat quietly, some holding hands and others holding babies too young to have ever been cradled by the slain Department of Corrections officer.
More than five years after Allgier shot and killed the 60-year-old Anderson during a brazen escape, the fallen man's family listened intently as Allgier said the word.
The plea deal reached between defense and prosecution, made official Wednesday, will spare Allgier the possibility of death. Instead, when he is sentenced by Judge Paul Maughan on Dec. 5, he will be imprisoned for life, without the possibility of parole.
In pleading guilty to aggravated murder and four other felonies (Allgier also pleaded no contest to three counts of attempted aggravated murder), Allgier said he hoped to "give the Anderson family closure."
According to the charges against him, Allgier shot and killed Anderson with the officer's own gun on June 25, 2007. Allgier, who at the time was serving a state prison sentence for burglary and forgery, took Anderson's gun from him after being unshackled for an MRI scan.
Defense attorney Dusty Kawai said Allgier has always been willing to plead guilty, but prosecutors offered to take death off the table for the first time only three weeks ago.
"That's something he's been willing to do since June 28 of 2007... Death was on the table since '07,"Kawai said. "If they're going to invite you to dance, you've got to dance. You can't just plead to a death sentence."
Prosecutor Robert Stott said that after more than five years of court hearings, Anderson's family wanted closure rather than having to endure a trial and years of potential appeals that make for "constant, relentless uncertainty, strain and stress, publicity and a constant reminder of their loss."
"They want to get it over," Stott said. "They want it resolved now, not 25 years from now."
Outside the courtroom, Kawai read a statement Allgier had written by hand.
"Mr. Allgier did this out of respect for Millie, Shawn, Michelle and the rest of the Stephen Anderson family, not for his own behalf," he wrote.
After the shooting, Allgier stole an SUV outside the clinic. He changed clothes at a girlfriend's home and led police on a high-speed chase. During the chase, Allgier tried to run over a sheriff's deputy waiting outside his car to disable Allgier's stolen vehicle with a tire ripper.
When a rear tire went flat, Allgier ran into an Arby's restaurant near 1700 South and Redwood Road, where Eric Fullerton had just ordered a ham-and-cheese croissant and orange juice for breakfast.
According to testimony at a 2010 preliminary hearing, Allgier pointed the gun at Fullerton and then grabbed an employee, Alejandro Gomez, around the neck and put a gun to his head.
"I thought, 'This is it,' " Fullerton said.
Allgier dragged Gomez into the kitchen area. Gomez either tripped or struggled and Allgier fired a shot that barely missed the employee's head. Then Allgier beat him with the butt of the gun.
Fullerton, then 59, who is 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, "went into action," grabbing the much larger Allgier's arm and trying to pry his fingers from the weapon. Allgier punched Fullerton and then slashed his throat with a knife.
"I didn't feel pain," Fullerton has said. "I did feel the coldness of the blade and I heard the sound."
Moments later, the Vietnam veteran said he pried loose the fingers of Allgier, a self-described "white-power skinhead" and member of the white-supremacy gang Aryan Empire Warriors. The gun dropped to the floor and Fullerton grabbed it.
Fullerton testified in court: "He's got the knife, I've got the gun contest over."
Soon after, police found Allgier in an office in the restaurant.
His freedom had lasted just 45 minutes.
At the time of his escape, Allgier was serving a state prison sentence for burglary and forgery while awaiting federal incarceration for weapons violations. He had previously absconded from parole in August 2001 and May 2003. While on parole in October 2006, he was charged by federal prosecutors for possessing a 9 mm handgun.
As Allgier was brought into the courtroom, Maxine McNeeley stood out of respect for the prisoner. A slight woman in her 70s with long white pigtails, McNeeley met Allgier through letters the two have exchanged since his arrest and, aside from his defense team, has been his lone supporter in court.
"I'm happy they took the death penalty off the table," McNeeley said. "Life in prison in a little box is suffering enough. I'm sorry for the Anderson family, for their loss. And I'm going to miss Curtis. He's been a joy to me. He's lifted me up when I've been down, and I've just seen him through different eyes."
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said there were "competing interests" that pushed for a death penalty, but Anderson's immediate family wanted life without parole.
"When you have a case like this, which is so important, which is so tragic in the experience of our community, it's understandable why that's there," he said of those who wanted the death penalty for Allgier. "But there is no way a third-party or fourth-party interest should ever be able to trump the needs of the family, of the victims who are here. If we start doing that, we will start to completely lose any measure of justice we can retain. The system isn't perfect, but today, in this courthouse, with this family, we retrieved the best measure of justice we could, and justice was served."
In a prepared statement, Anderson's family said the plea deal will mean Allgier "can never hurt another innocent person again."
"Stephen Anderson's influence and example are missed every day by his family and those who knew him, and these memories will never be lost," the statement said. "Stephen was a kind and generous man who served his family, his church, and his community with kindness, dedication, and honor. This has been a trying time for everyone who knew Stephen. This senseless act of violence is a constant reminder that we live in a less than perfect world with less than perfect people."
Anderson family statement
Today our thoughts are focused on a great husband, father, grandfather, and friend. Stephen Anderson's influence and example are missed every day by his family and those who knew him, and these memories will never be lost. Stephen was a kind and generous man who served his family, his church, and his community with kindness, dedication, and honor.Â Â
This has been a trying time for everyone who knew Stephen. This senseless act of violence is a constant reminder that we live in a less than perfect world with less than perfect people.Â
Throughout the legal process and during the past five plus years, our family has been kept apprised of any developments pertinent to the case. We have met with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office a number of times and have felt that our concerns and questions have been met with courtesy and appropriate responses. A number of weeks ago, we were invited into a meeting with the District Attorney and his team of prosecutors.Â We were told what a trial would include, and the three possibilities if the accused was found guilty. One of those possibilities was a sentence of life in prison. The question at that time from the family was that if a plea were to be offered, would the accused ever be eligible for parole?Â The assurance was given that no plea would be accepted if that assurance could not be guaranteed. While the ultimate decision of accepting a plea or taking the case to trial was that of the District Attorney's office, our family was given the opportunity to have our voices heard.Â Â
The Anderson family's acceptance of a plea in this case is in no way a reflection of any concern or trepidation that our family has regarding the case or its merits, or that the accused would ultimately be found guilty of Stephen's murder. Nor is this acceptance a reflection of the personal beliefs of the family regarding capital punishment. We believe that the preponderance of evidence in a trial would clearly result in a conviction. At the same time, we stand unified in accepting the decision of the court today, knowing that the accused can never hurt another innocent person again.