As she stood at the podium inside a Salt Lake City courtroom, Joanna White turned to face the man who brutally killed her son’s father.
She looked him in the eyes, began to cry and told Kepedro Kegler: “I forgive you.”
“You’re going to be in your own personal hell, I feel,” White told the man. “And I’m sorry for that. I don’t believe you have evil in your heart.”
Kegler, a 43-year-old homeless man, admitted earlier this year that he attacked Kevin McCann and three others in the downtown Salt Lake City homeless district using a paving stone and rocks in July 2017. McCann, 55, had been sitting in front of a storage unit business looking at a tablet when Kegler hit his head with a 53-pound cement block. The man died of massive head trauma.
White, who was divorced from McCann, said during Kegler’s sentencing hearing Friday that she remained friends with her ex-husband. The loss has been difficult for her son, she told 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris. They worry that Kegler might cause more harm to others if he is released from prison and doesn’t take the medication he needs for his mental health issues or falls again into drug use.
“It scares me,” White said. “I don’t want anyone else to go through this.”
McCann’s son, Sebastian McCann, told the judge that he doesn’t yet feel the forgiveness towards his father’s killer that his mother does.
His father will miss those big moments in his life, Sebastian said. His father won’t see him get married or have children. He’ll never play with his grandkids.
“This is something that can’t be returned,” the son said. “The only thing he could ever do to kind of rectify what he’s done is get the mental health [treatment] he needs so that something like this never happens again.”
Kegler was sentenced Friday to 18-years-to-life in the Utah State Prison. He was sentenced to serve at least 15 years for McCann’s murder, and another 3-year-to-life term for the attempted murder of another man — sentences that Kouris ordered to run consecutive to one another. He will also serve another prison term of up to five years after pleading guilty to assaulting a third person, but the judge ordered that sentence to run concurrent to the other sentences. The parole board will determine if he serves longer than 18 years.
Kouris told Kegler that he would strongly recommend to the parole board that he receive mental health and drug treatment while in prison.
Kegler apologized in court Friday before the sentence was handed down, saying he had been dealing with mental health issues for “awhile” and hadn’t been evaluated or been able to get help.
“I would like to say I am so deeply sorry for the series of events that happened between all the victims,” he said.
The defendant’s family wrote in letters to the judge that they desperately tried to find Kegler for about a year before he was arrested for the killing. They thought he had become homeless — but didn’t know if he was alive or dead.
“We feared something like these charges could happen given his substance abuse and mental illness,” his aunt, Michelle Allen, wrote.
Kegler’s assaults began just after 7 a.m. on July 25, 2017, when he began throwing rocks at two men who had been sleeping under an overpass near 550 W. 500 South. He then went to the storage units, where he attacked a man playing on a cellphone, according to charging documents. Kegler hit and kicked that man several times, yelling, “Die, die, die” before moving to the front of the building where McCann was sitting.
As he held the heavy paving stone over his head, Kegler screamed, “Die, motherf-----,” a witness reported to police, before throwing the concrete on McCann’s head.
None of the other victims were in the courtroom Friday as Kegler was sentenced. Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Chou Chou Collins said prosecutors lost contact with one of the victims, and another didn’t want to attend.
It’s unclear whether Kegler knew any of the people he attacked, and police last year called the attacks “random.”
Collins told the judge Friday that McCann had chosen to be homeless because he could not afford both housing and his son’s child support. He had been waiting that morning for the storage units to open, she said, so he could change his clothes and go to work as a computer web designer.