The last 20 seconds of Matthew Holt’s life were spent in fear.
For those last few seconds, as he struggled with the man who would shoot and kill him in a Easter Sunday robbery near the Jordan River Parkway, he lived in terror.
It doesn’t seem like a long time, 3rd District Court Judge James Blanch said. But it was — and to illustrate that, Blanch let 20 seconds of silence pass in his courtroom Tuesday before sentencing Holt’s killer, 36-year-old Jeffery Ray Shepherd, to spend up to life in prison.
For those 20 seconds, Holt’s family and friends quietly wept, remembering the kind and generous man who fought his entire life to overcome serious health issues — only to be killed inside his car in a senseless murder at the age of 46.
Shepherd sat quietly, his hands and feet shackled together.
“This individual feared death his entire life,” the judge told Shepherd before sentencing him to a 15-year-to-life term at the Utah State Prison. “He had to experience terror and fear for that period of time and that was because of your actions.”
Megan Oviatt, a close friend of Holt, said the hardest part after her friend’s death is closing her eyes and wondering about the violent end of his life. If Shepherd would have simply asked Holt for money, Oviatt said, her friend would have given it freely.
“Anyone who knew Matt, knew all he would have had to do was ask him,” she said. “He did give him the money. He didn’t need to shoot him.”
Family members said Holt had kidney and heart problems throughout his life, and he survived dozens of surgeries, including an open-heart procedure. He spent much of his childhood as a patient at Primary Children’s Medical Center, according to his parents.
Shepherd avoided the possibility of the death penalty when he pleaded guilty in October to a reduced charge of first-degree felony murder, admitting that on the afternoon of April 16, he was in the area of the Jordan River Parkway, where he confronted Holt with a gun and demanded money.
Security camera footage from nearby businesses was critical to the man’s arrest, police have said.
Defense attorney Heather Chesnut told the judge that Shepherd was addicted to methamphetamine at the time of the shooting, and said he will work the rest of his life to overcome that addiction.
Shepherd offered a brief apology in court Tuesday.
“I just want to say I’m sorry for my actions and the poor choices I’ve made,” he said. “I’m truly sorry for what happened and all the pain and suffering I’ve caused.”
For Holt’s parents, Shepherd’s apology was appreciated. They said after the sentencing hearing they are relieved that the court process is over, and said the lengthy prison sentence was justice for their only son.
Maxine Holt said she thinks and prays often for Shepherd’s family, knowing they, too, must be experiencing a loss.
The mother told Judge Blanch on Tuesday that losing her son to such a violent death has left her heartbroken.
She insisted on putting up a Christmas tree this year, she said, knowing her son loved the holiday so much. She moved her furniture and set up the tree. But as she looked at all the ornaments her son shopped for through the years, she couldn’t bear to keep it up. Each was like looking at a picture of Matthew, a reminder of what they have lost.
“The grief is absolutely crushing,” Maxine Holt said. “ … He was taken from us in such a cruel and senseless act.”