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Utah man sentenced to life for murder of homeless man

Published September 3, 2013 1:00 pm

Courts • St. George man to be sentenced Wednesday in a separate double homicide just over a month later.
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St. George • Two experiences dramatically altered the course of Paul C. Ashton's life: his addiction to drugs and his near-death the night of Aug. 6, 2007.

Shot seven times in an industrial area of Ogden, Ashton was close to dying when two workers heard his cries for help.

Ogden police believe the shooting may have been related to a gang-related shooting the day before, when Riqo Perea opened fire on a wedding party, killing two.

Ashton was kidnapped by three Hispanic men, he told police, and was dumped near the 2800 block of Commerce Way, where he was found lying in the road wearing no shoes and no shirt, bleeding from wounds to his ear, hand, abdomen, groin and thighs, according to Ogden police records.

Ashton's defense attorney, Douglas Terry, said the events of that August night significantly altered Ashton's life, ultimately guiding him down a path that left him on Tuesday standing before a federal judge, who sentenced him to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing a man in 2010.

"He is not a monster," Terry told U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart. "He has taken responsibility for the things he has done in this case. … He was traumatically and dramatically changed when he was almost killed."

Terry said Ashton also struggled with his addiction to methamphetamine."

Ashton, 34, was charged in federal court with kidnapping resulting in a death and aiding in the use of a firearm during a violent crime.

In May, Ashton admitted that he kidnapped and aided in the murder of Bradley Eitner on Oct. 31, 2010.

On Tuesday, Stewart sentenced him to life in prison plus 10 years for the crimes.

Eitner's sister, Julie Powell, said during Ashton's sentencing hearing that her brother was a homeless man who lived in St. George. She described him as an intelligent man who came from a large family and had a son, but who struggled with a drug addiction.

"He was not a faceless member, not a nameless member [of society,]" she said. "Just because someone is homeless, doesn't mean their loss will not be felt, and it has a left a hole in all of us."

The night of Halloween 2010, Eitner, 43, had passed out on Ashton's couch, according to court documents.

With the help of another individual, Ashton carried Eitner outside to his truck. On the way out the door, Ashton banged Eitner's head against the door frame "at least once," according to a court document.

Ashton placed Eitner in the truck bed and slammed the tailgate against the man's head "at least once." After driving around for a while, the unidentified man with Ashton urged him to take Eitner to a hospital or the local homeless shelter. Ashton apparently became enraged and said, "I'm going to smash his head with a rock and beat his head with a shovel."

He stopped the truck, got out, retrieved a rock and struck Eitner in the head with it.

Ashton then dropped the other man off at his own home and picked up another individual, who is identified in court documents as his "accomplice."

The two drove to a secluded location in the Arizona desert and helped Eitner, who was still alive at that point, out of the truck.

"My accomplice then shot Mr. Eitner twice with a rifle, and at least one shot hit Mr. Eitner in the head," Ashton said in a plea statement. The accomplice pushed Eitner off an embankment, where he became wedged in a rock crevice.

Eitner's body was discovered March 11, 2011. An autopsy determined he died as a result of blunt force head trauma and a single gunshot wound.

Stewart said Tuesday this was the first life sentence he has handed down in 14 years as a judge, but said that it was appropriate. He said the fact that Eitner's body was not found until several months after his death was concerning.

"That by itself indicates Mr. Ashton's loss of humanity," he said.

Ashton — dressed in an orange jumpsuit, his hands and feet shackled — gave an apology Tuesday before receiving his sentence.

"I think back now, being sober, no words can address the hurt I've inflicted on the Eitner family," he said. "I truly, truly am sorry."

On Wednesday, Ashton is scheduled to be sentenced in state court for a separate double homicide, which also occurred in 2010.

In that case, Ashton was charged in 5th District Court in Washington County with two counts of first-degree felony aggravated murder, along with the first-degree felony attempted aggravated murder and third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, in connection with the Dec. 11, 2010 murders of Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden, 27, and Jerrica Christensen, 20.

According to state court documents, Christensen and 28-year-old James Fiske were helping Jerden and her boyfriend move out of Ashton's townhouse after he accused them of stealing items. Tension escalated and prosecutors allege Ashton killed Jerden and wounded Fiske, while Brandon Perry Smith killed Christensen to silence her.

Aric Cramer, Ashton's former attorney, had said previously that Ashton, who was using a wheelchair at the time because of a fractured leg, reacted after Jerden hit him in the head with a toolbox.

In July, Ashton accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to aggravated murder for Jerden's death and attempted aggravated murder for wounding Fiske during the 2010 apartment shooting. He also pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance.

State prosecutors are asking for Ashton to be sentenced to another life sentence, but will ask that he serve his state time in federal prison. Ashton's attorneys asked Tuesday that he be able to serve his sentence in Tucson, Arizona.

A five-day preliminary hearing for Smith, who is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated assault, is set to begin on Oct. 7.

jmiller@sltrib.com