Randolph • It’s an afternoon Kayleen Richins has relived every day.
In a remote aspen forest in the Monte Cristo area, her family had set up a paper target against a cardboard box and planned to do a little target shooting. They had waited about an hour, hearing nothing, so they thought they were alone.
But Richins didn’t know that just through the dense forest was another Weber County family enjoying the fall day. The Kempkes were driving a Jeep along a dirt road to take family photos among the bright yellow fall foliage.
Richins aimed her rifle and squeezed the trigger. The bullet whizzed through the trees, broke through the Jeep’s window and struck 14-year-old Zack Kempke in the head. The Weber County boy — who loved superheroes and soccer, who made sure he hugged his family before he went to bed each night — died immediately.
Prosecutors believed Richins’ carelessness was criminal, and she was charged with negligent homicide. At her sentencing Wednesday, the 40-year-old woman cried as she recalled how she agonizes over that Sept. 23 day, and the pain she has caused Zack’s family.
“Words cannot begin to express the hurt,” she said. “I hold myself responsible for taking such a sweet, innocent boy from this world.”
Richins said she wanted to personally apologize to the Kempke family during the Wednesday sentencing — but Zack’s family wasn’t in the tiny Rich County courtroom. Rich County Attorney Benjamin Willoughby told the judge it was just too difficult for them to be there.
Willoughby noted the forgiveness that the Kempkes have shown Richins, noting how Zack’s parents had asked that Richins’ name never be made public — a way to shield and protect the woman who had taken their son from them.
Zack’s mother had wanted the maximum jail sentence for Richins, she told probation agents who made a sentencing recommendation ahead of the sentencing. His father couldn’t say what punishment he felt was appropriate, the grief and his emotions varied too much day by day.
But both Willoughby and Richins’ defense attorney, Carl Anderson, asked the judge for no jail time.
Anderson noted Richins had never been in trouble with the law before and argued jail was not appropriate for someone who did not intend to hurt anyone. She took responsibility for what happened, he said, by pleading guilty at her first court date.
“She had no idea there was a road back there,” Anderson said. “Ms. Richins never intended to harm anyone, and she had absolutely no knowledge that she was going to harm somebody.”
Willoughby, the prosecutor, said he went to the mountains to look at the area where Richins and her family gathered that day. He stood where she fired, he said. He stood where the target had been set up. And he stood where the Kempke Jeep had come to a stop, noting the fresh tire tracks still in the dirt.
He told 1st District Judge Thomas Willmore that it became clear to him that, with how the landscape was and with the loud rustling of the leaves, it was unlikely Richins could have known there was a road beyond the trees.
He asked for probation. This was in contrast to the presentence report in which corrections employees had recommended that Richins serve three months behind bars.
The judge on Wednesday said he wrestled over what the most appropriate sentence would be. He thought about jail time, Willmore said. Maybe she should spend 14 days behind bars — one day for every year that Zack was alive. Maybe it should be more.
But the judge ultimately ordered that Richins spend two years on probation, which will include paying a $2,500 fine and 480 hours of community service.
Willmore ordered that the woman partner with a hunting or gun safety organization and spend 300 of those hours creating a video about hunter safety, to tell the public about what she had done and the importance of using backstops when target shooting. The other 180 hours, the judge ordered, would be spent speaking at hunter safety youth trainings.
She’ll have to stand in front of 8-year-olds, maybe 12-year-olds, the judge said, and tell them about how she ended the life of someone not much older than they are.
“You’re going to tell them what you did,” Willmore told Richins, “and how they can make sure it never happens. And you’re going to tell them about a 14-year-old boy who lost his life.”
And if she can’t do that in the next two years, Willmore said he won’t hesitate to put Richins behind bars — and will make her serve every day of the maximum one-year penalty.
The judge noted that more than a dozen years ago, he ordered another defendant to complete a similar public service video about the dangers of texting and driving. That man, whose careless driving killed two others, spoke publicly about his bad choices and even went on to help change state law. He made a difference, the judge said.
“He went out and tried to find some redemption,” Willmore told Richins. “That’s what you’re going to do.”