Logan • Jayzon Decker wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger on a February afternoon last year, firing a bullet into the back of the head of then-14-year-old Deserae Turner.
It was his friend, 17-year-old Colter Peterson, who fired the shot that nearly killed the girl.
But during Decker’s sentencing hearing on Wednesday, Deserae’s mother told the judge that she is more scared of Decker than Peterson because it was his idea to kill her daughter, a young girl he hardly knew.
Peterson lured Deserae to a Smithfield canal on Feb. 16, and Decker kept the girl there by pretending to be looking for a lost ring. He encouraged Peterson to fire the shot into the back of Deserae’s head. And afterwards Decker placed the bullet casing on his window sill, a memento of the murder he thought the two had accomplished together.
But Deserae survived.
On Wednesday, the girl sat in a wheelchair just feet away from Decker and told him he should never be let out of prison. She called him “evil” for standing by and watching as she was shot and fell to the ground. Instead of helping her, he and Peterson took her money and bought snacks at a nearby convenience store. She lay in the dry canal in the cold for eight hours before she was found.
“No amount of [prison] time will fix you,” she said. “You are evil. … You kept the shell for a trophy. How sick is that? Good luck in prison and remember that, because of you, my life is a prison, too.”
First District Judge Brian Cannell sentenced Decker to a 15-year-to-life term in the Utah State Prison for first-degree felony attempted aggravated murder, to run concurrently with a term of up to 15 years for second-degree felony obstruction of justice.
Decker had pleaded guilty in adult court in December to both counts.
Deserae and her family had asked for the harshest sentence for Decker, saying the girl’s life is permanently changed because of his actions. Deserae’s left side is paralyzed, and her sight is limited. She suffers from constant and severe headaches, pain that she noted was present on Wednesday as she read her statement in court.
Deserae cradled her head in her right hand as she described how “devastating” the last year has been, as she has missed out on all of the things regular teenagers should be doing.
She didn’t get to take the classes at school that she wanted, and she didn’t get to play her flute in band with her friend. She’ll never drive a car.
And instead of hanging out with friends or going to school dances, Deserae said she spends much of her time sleeping or at doctor appointments.
“What do you have against me?” the girl asked Decker, who stared forward as she spoke in court. “You don’t even know me. I hate what you did to me. … I hate that I don’t have a regular teenager life anymore. I hate that I won’t ever have a regular life.”
During Peterson’s sentencing hearing last week, he sobbed throughout the proceeding before a judge sentenced him to a 15-to-life term in prison. (Both boys will be held at a juvenile detention facility until they are 18 years old.)
In contrast to Peterson, Decker showed little emotion during his sentencing, crying only as he offered a brief apology and a request for the Turner family’s forgiveness.
“I don’t really know what to say, but I’m sorry about the things I have done and for the pain I have caused,” he said.
The boy’s attorney, Shannon Demler, had asked the judge for a lesser prison sentence, saying his client was less culpable for the crimes because he was not the triggerman. He also argued that Decker’s age and lack of past criminal behavior warranted a lesser sentence.
The defendant’s mother, Billie Jean Decker, cried in court Wednesday, saying she had no idea why her son did this. She cries every day for Deserae’s family, she said, and cries at the thought that her son took part “in such a horrendous act.”
“I ask as his mother, your Honor, that you be fair and just for Deserae and her family,” the mother said. “But to also have mercy on my son, whom I believe still has goodness in him.”
After sentencing Decker, Judge Cannell said he still has hope for the young man, and said he hopes the community is safe in the future when he is released.
The judge said he watched the young defendant in court on Wednesday, and noticed Decker showed little emotion throughout the hearing.
“It’s difficult for me to read you,” the judge said. “I don’t know what’s scarier: the actual act or not understanding [why] or the lack of emotion.”
On Feb. 16, the two boys lured Deserae to a Smithfield canal with the original plan to slit her throat with knives they brought, according to prosecutors. But Peterson fired the bullet into the back of Deserae’s head, at the encouragement of Decker.
Deserae’s parents reported her missing after she did not return home from school. She was found later that evening by two women who were searching for her near the canal, according to preliminary hearing testimony.
Peterson later told police he had become annoyed with Deserae for texting and contacting him through the messaging app Snapchat, according to the preliminary hearing testimony. Decker told Peterson it would “be pretty easy to get rid of her,” a Cache County sheriff’s deputy testified.
Because of their ages, the two defendants were initially charged in juvenile court with the crimes. But after hearing evidence of the crimes and more about the teens, a juvenile court judge moved the case to the adult court system.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify juveniles charged with crimes until they are certified to stand trial in adult court, as Peterson and Decker have been.
After Wednesday’s sentencing, prosecutors expressed relief that this chapter in the Turner family’s lives has now come to an end, and that the family can continue with healing both physically and emotionally.
With her family by her side, Deserae said after the hearing that she will continue to be strong and tough, noting she is “tougher than a bullet.”
While some have called her story “heartbreaking,” Deserae said, she said this is only one chapter of her life.
“My life can and will get better,” she said. “I am going to have my happy ending.”