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Man gets prison for 1994 Utah murder
First Published Apr 08 2014 01:00 pm • Last Updated Apr 08 2014 10:29 pm

Nearly 10 years after a West Jordan man was found shot to death in Little Cottonwood Canyon, his killer has been sent to prison.

Jose Leyva-Padilla, 41, was sentenced Tuesday in 3rd District Court to two to 15 years at the Utah State Prison for the August 1994 slaying of 35-year-old Richard Leetham.

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Leyva-Padilla was charged in 2010 with first-degree felony counts of murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping for allegedly kidnapping, robbing and killing Leetham.

In February, Leyva-Padilla pleaded guilty to a lesser second-degree felony count of manslaughter and the other two counts were dismissed.

According to charging documents, Leetham drove his pickup to Salt Lake Community College to type a report on Aug. 17, 1994, and never returned home. A missing persons report was filed with the West Jordan Police Department on Aug. 27, 1994.

Two months later, on Oct. 11, a person found Leetham’s body about 11/2 miles from the mouth of in Little Cottonwood Canyon near an abandoned cement plant, the Unified Police Department reported. He had been shot in the chest. In November 1994, Leetham’s truck was found in Tijuana, Mexico.

A woman in Mexico told police that Leyva-Padilla drove the truck down on Aug. 17, 1994, packed a bag and left without saying where he was going, charging documents state. Leyva-Padilla did not return to retrieve the vehicle for several months.

When police found Leyva-Padilla, he admitted he drove Leetham’s vehicle to Mexico, charges state. He also said he had $700, but claimed he got the money and truck from a third person.

Charges were not filed then, and the case remained dormant until it was reopened in 2008.

At that time, a Unified Police detective Todd Park interviewed witnesses and obtained enough information and evidence to seek charges against Leyva-Padilla.

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During a 2011 preliminary hearing, Marco Frescas-Hernandez testified that Leyva-Padilla was bragging about the killing to a group of Spanish-speaking inmates at the Salt Lake County jail in 1995.

Leyva-Padilla claimed he had "blasted" someone who had "burned him" on a drug deal, but had left no physical evidence, Frescas-Hernandez testified. Leyva-Padilla claimed he met the man downtown and took him at gunpoint.

"He took him up somewhere and smoked him," Frescas-Hernandez testified.


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