Four sentenced to probation for aiding in 2012 Utah killing
West Jordan • If there is any good that can come from a night fueled by drugs and greed that left a 32-year-old man dead, a judge said Tuesday, it must come in the form of redemption.
Four of the five people charged in connection with the 2012 shooting of Justen L. LeFave appeared in court Tuesday with similar tales: They've changed, they said. They've learned. They're sorry.
But it was their actions, not their words, that prompted 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris to dole out penalties that include community service and probation but no more time behind bars.
Alexis Kelley Hughes, 26, Anthony David Martinez, 31, and Amy Virginia Rowley, 37, were sentenced to serve three years' probation, the terms of which include community service, counseling, substance-abuse treatment and paying thousands of dollars in restitution to LeFave's family.
Although each has spent no less than one year in jail, the judge reminded them that they were being rewarded for their decision to cooperate with authorities and assist in the conviction of accused murderer Gabriel Samson Gurule, 35, who is awaiting sentencing.
"The type of crime you were involved in here is unforgivable," Kouris told them. "But you also helped bring a lot of closure to this family."
The judge declared the case closed against Abigail Jennings, 36, who was accused of plotting to rob LeFave with the others, in light of the fact that she's already spent a year in jail, attended substance-abuse treatment and performed 100 hours of community service.
At Gurule's preliminary hearing last year, the four testified about their roles in the events on Aug. 26, 2012.
According to investigators, the group of five had agreed to rob LeFave at his Midvale apartment, located near 7000 South and State Street.
According to the original plan, Jennings was going to stay with LeFave until he fell asleep, then alert the others. When that plan failed, prosecutors said, Gurule, Martinez, Hughes and Rowley came back days later to finish the job.
Gurule shot LeFave at point-blank range over the threshold of LeFave's apartment, according to testimony.
After the shooting, all four fled the area, court documents say. The group cleaned the gun and Martinez and Hughes allegedly dumped the weapon in Mill Creek Canyon.
LeFave's family addressed the court before each sentencing, which the judge doled out one after the other.
Family members wept as they described life without LeFave and rattled off the names of the 10 nieces and nephews who will never be able to talk or play with their beloved uncle again.
But mostly, the family talked about forgiveness.
"You took part in the murder of a wonderful man," said Zen Orawiec, LeFave's mother. "Every journey is hard and filled with challenges. ... I hope that you now have an opportunity to do something different with your life."
Prosecutors originally were going to ask that Martinez, who was charged with murder, aggravated robbery and obstructing justice for allegedly plotting the crime, acting as a getaway driver and helping to get rid of the weapon, complete a two-year stint behind bars.
But LeFave's family said they felt he should be released sooner and given a chance to make something better of his life.
As the defendants took their turns before the judge Tuesday, they offered apologies and proof of their rehabilitation.
Hughes, who was originally charged with first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery for allegedly knocking at LeFave's door and asking him for directions to another building as Gurule stepped up from behind her and fired the fatal shot, has gotten a job, received treatment, stayed clean.
She had her lawyer read a written statement Tuesday because she told him, "she didn't think she could get through it in one piece."
"I'm not the same person I once was," she wrote. "I've changed my selfish ways."
Jennings traded in a life of crime for a life with her children. She's a "softball mom" now, her lawyer said. She's "living a normal life" and regrets her role in what happened to LeFave.
"I can't change what's happened in my life," Jennings said, tearfully. "All I can do is to try to do better."
Martinez was a key witness in the investigation against Gurule, prosecutors said. He's been in jail since the shooting.
"I can't even imagine what [LeFave's family has] been through," Martinez said. "I'm very, very sorry."
Rowley, who was charged with the same crimes as Hughes, also got a job and is seeing a counselor regularly, her lawyer said. She's fighting to regain custody of her son and wants to serve as an example to other women caught in a life of drugs and crime.
When she spoke, she asked the judge if she could turn and face the family, who stood in a tight cluster, their arms wrapped around each other as they cried.
"I know my actions will never bring Justin back," Rowley said. "I am so sorry. The only thing we can do is make sure he didn't die in vain."
Gurule pleaded guilty to manslaughter, aggravated robbery and obstructing justice last month. He faces up to life in prison for each crime, all first-degree felonies, when he is sentenced in June.