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| Courtesy Facebook Cooper Van Huizen
Utah boy, 16, fighting 1-to-15-year prison sentence
Plea deal » Teen expected jail time, probation — not prison — for robbery.
First Published May 25 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated May 25 2014 04:44 pm

The slender 16-year-old is kept alone in a maximum security cell at the Utah State Prison.

It’s small and cold, he said. A camera constantly films him.

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He has gone a week without a shower and quickly learned to keep his window flap closed, so he would not hear mentally ill inmates talking to themselves — which upsets him.

How did South Ogden teen Cooper Van Huizen end up in the "Uintah 1" facility — the same unit that houses death-row inmates, gang members, and other high profile offenders?

On May 7, he stood before Ogden’s 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones to be sentenced after pleading guilty to two second-degree felony robbery charges.

The teen and his parents thought a plea deal would shield the boy ­— who has no prior criminal history — from a potential one-to-15 year prison sentence.

But on that day, Jones told the teen that the 180 days in jail recommended by attorneys and Adult Probation and Parole was "too soft" for his crimes, and sent the boy straight to prison.

"No, please, no, please," the teen cried as bailiffs handcuffed him and led him from the courtroom while family members sobbed.

Now, Van Huizen and his parents are fighting the sentence, saying they did not receive solid legal advice from the boy’s defense attorney. A new defense attorney has asked Jones to reconsider the sentence and allow the teen to withdraw his guilty pleas.

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story continues below

The crime » On Nov. 19, a group of teen-aged boys — the youngest of whom was Van Huizen — entered a Roy home, and held two people at gunpoint. According to one victim’s statement to police, one teen pointed a gun at his face and demanded money, cell phones and his stash of marijuana.

After the victim was ordered to lie on the floor on his belly, "I thought I was going to get shot in the back of the head," he told police.

Van Huizen admits he brought two of his father’s unloaded guns to the robbery, but attorney Elizabeth Hunt contends in court filings that he was not the one who pointed a gun at the victims.

Jones said during Van Huizen’s sentencing that there was evidence the teens were planning six similar robberies. But Hunt argues there is no evidence implicating her client in that planning.

"As I look back on what I did, I recognize that I was reckless in trying to fit in with and please new people I did not really know," Van Huizen wrote in a court declaration filed Tuesday. "... My judgment was impaired by my use of marijuana."

The deal » Van Huizen was initially charged in juvenile court, but after a preliminary hearing, juvenile court Judge Michelle Heward sent the case to adult court.

On Dec. 24, the teen was charged as an adult with two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated burglary — all first-degree felonies with a maximum penalty of up to life in prison.

Van Huizen’s mother, Mindy Van Huizen, wrote in a court declaration that she was told by defense attorney Roy Cole that if her son took the plea deal, he would be eligible for a 402 reduction­ — which would reduce the felonies two steps to misdemeanors, once he completed probation.

But Hunt called this agreement "illusory and illegal," arguing that there was no guarantee the judge would grant probation.

The teen took the plea deal in March, pleading guilty to two lesser second-degree felony counts of robbery. At sentencing, Cole focused his statements more on allowing the teen to serve any potential jail time over the summer so he could finish his studies, than on trying to avoid a prison term.

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