Provo • When Christopher Poulson killed his girlfriend and her young child, he took away more than the lives of 23-year-old Emily Quijano and her 3-year-old son, Gabriel Almiron.
He took away their potential, Quijano’s family tearfully told a judge during Poulsen’s sentencing Thursday.
He stole their family’s chance to see Quijano graduate from massage therapy school, to move to California to follow her dreams and to record a music project with her father and her sister.
Poulson took from them a little boy whose personality was just starting to shine through, who would never grow up to be a teenager or get married or have a family of his own.
A lifetime of memories that a family is built on — the birthday celebrations, graduations and silly games played at reunions — was robbed from them when Poulson fatally injured Gabriel then held a towel-wrapped gun against his sleeping girlfriend’s head and pulled the trigger.
But even as they recounted through tears all that they have lost, Quijano’s family also expressed forgiveness and concern for the man who killed their loved ones.
Quijano’s mother, Brenda Marsh, said she worries about Poulson and the life he will now live behind bars.
“Seeing Christopher go to prison brings me no joy,” she said. "But it does bring me peace. It is right for him to be there and serve his sentence.”
Poulson pleaded guilty in August to first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony manslaughter. On Thursday, 4th District Judge Robert C. Lunnen sentenced him to back-to-back prison terms of 15-year-to-life for murder, and one-to-15 years for the second charge.
It will be up to the Utah parole board to decide how much time Poulson spends behind bars. Many of Quijano’s family asked Thursday that he never be released, saying what he did was callous and calculated.
“My Emma and Gabe are not coming home to me,” said father Jesse Quijano in tears. “This is finally sinking in and it’s tearing my heart to shreds. I feel no freedom or relief from this mental anguish.”
What happened to Quijano and her son was a mystery for four years, after the two were reported missing by Quijano’s ex-husband. But authorities have long believed that Poulson was responsible for killing them, and in 2017, charged him with the crimes — despite not finding their bodies.
Poulson eventually admitted to killing them, and struck a unique plea deal. If he was able to tell prosecutors where he had buried Quijano and Gabriel, they agreed to ask the judge to allow him to plead guilty to lesser charges.
Their remains were found by searchers earlier this month based off of Poulson’s recollections, but the judge ruled that he would not let Poulson change his pleas.
“It’s difficult for me, as a court, to accept a 30-year limit on two very important lives,” Lunnen said at that hearing.
That decision last week sealed Poulson’s fate, making Thursday’s sentencing hearing more of a formality.
During the hearing, Poulson offered a brief apology.
“I take full responsibility for what I’ve done,” he said. “I feel terrible for what has happened. I feel extreme remorse. I’m sorry, I was not in my right mind when this occurred.”
Deputy Utah County Attorney Lance Bastian told the judge Thursday that he believes Poulson has shown no remorse at all for what he did. He let Quijano’s family worry for years, he said, and only gave up the truth of what happened when it would benefit him.
And Bastian noted that Poulson had clear memories of most of Sept. 8 and 9, 2015. He could easily recall how he woke to find Gabriel dead after he had been injured the night before. He remembers panicking and getting his gun, wrapping it in a towel and holding it to Quijano’s forehead.
He remembers how he wrapped the pajama-clad mother and son in sheets and put them in his car, drove to a store and bought a shovel, then buried them in a place where they used to ride bikes.
But when it came to describing how he had harmed Gabriel, Bastian said Poulson’s memory has “conveniently” lapsed. He was doing drugs that day, he told police, and can’t remember exactly how the boy was fatally injured.
Bastian also said that Poulson was callous in the way he dumped Quijano’s and Gabriel’s body in the hole he had dug — their bodies haphazardly tossed on one another, a cigarette butt flicked on top of their remains.
“I can’t think of a better way to describe Christopher Poulson than cold-blooded,” the prosecutor said. “There’s a big part of me that wishes this court could do more. Because he’s earned it.”
Poulson told police he broke up with Quijano on Sept. 8, 2015, telling authorities he hadn’t seen her since she left their Orem apartment with her young son after he found drug paraphernalia in their apartment.
But authorities began focusing on Poulson, gathering evidence of how he bought a shovel and work gloves the day after the mother and son disappeared.