PROVO -- Calling a man's account of a brutal 2010 attack and near-murder on the Provo River Trail absurd, unbelievable and self-serving, a judge Tuesday sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Shawn Michael Leonard, 34, received the sentence for one count of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony. He also was sentenced to five years to life in prison for first-degree attempted homicide, five years to life in prison for first-degree aggravated robbery, 15 years to life in prison for another first-degree aggravated kidnapping charge and zero to five years in prison for third-degree felony escape from official custody. Leonard pleaded guilty to all the charges in April, and in exchange prosecutors dismissed one count of first-degree aggravated sexual assault.
Leonard's charges were brought against him after he escaped from a jail work program on June 8, 2010. According to prosecutors, he walked away from the program and later confronted a female Utah Valley University student on the Provo River Trail, near the Branbury Apartments. During a preliminary hearing in February, the woman testified that Leonard then attacked her, dragging her through the woods and strangling her with a shoelace-like cord. At some point she blacked out, she testified, but later woke up with her clothing pulled out of place.
Authorities testified at the February hearing that while the victim was unconscious she was raped and beaten nearly to death. She was found by people walking in the area and transported to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. Doctors testified that the beating had closed her airways and nearly killed her. She said she now experiences permanent double vision, has lost numerous teeth and has developed a heart condition.
During Leonard's sentencing Tuesday, the victim's mother said that when she arrived at the hospital her daughter was beaten beyond recognition. She said that she and the victim's father have struggled to explain what happened to their younger children, and that they have spent nights sobbing uncontrollably.
"This has been the worst nightmare a mother can go through," she told the court.
The victim's father on Tuesday recounted his struggles with his feelings toward Leonard, saying that at times he is angry and at other times feels pity. Both of the victim's parents stressed to the court the long-term physical, medical and psychological consequences of the attack, and asked Judge Claudia Laycock to keep Leonard locked up forever.
"My greatest fear is that someday he will be released from prison, lose his temper again and hurt another one of God's children," the victim's father said.
Prosecutor Donna Kelly also reminded the court Tuesday that after Leonard attacked the woman on the river trail he walked to the Riverwoods shopping complex and held up a children's clothing store at knifepoint. During the incident he forced a female store clerk into a storage closet and tied her up with the same cord he used to strangle his first victim.
The incident led to Leonard's second kidnapping charge and his aggravated robbery charge. Laycock said Tuesday that both victims were lucky to be alive.
During arguments at the sentencing, defense lawyer Debbie Hill said that she understood the severity of the crimes and the injuries suffered by the trail victim. She also said she understood Leonard faced a lengthy prison sentence, but hoped he could get out someday.
"We're just hoping at some point in the future Shawn will be able to be paroled," Hill told the court.
Though Laycock pointed out that the presumptive sentence for first-degree aggravated kidnapping was life in prison without the possibility of parole, Hill argued that Leonard didn't hold his victims for very long and didn't take them very far. She said that his other charges reflected the severity of his crimes, but that his kidnapping charge shouldn't result in his permanent incarceration. Hill additionally stated that Leonard's judgment was impaired before the attack because he had taken drugs, and that despite a long criminal history had no violent record.
But Kelly repeatedly characterized Leonard as a narcissist who left his first victim believing she was dead. She described Leonard's version of the events -- in which Kelly said he claims he had consensual sex with his victim then got mad at her -- was absurd and astonishing. Kelly added that Leonard never would be able to "follow the rules of human decency" and needed to be sent to prison for the rest of his life.
"This is exactly the type of case for which prisons are built," she argued.
In a relatively lengthy explanation of her sentence, Laycock agreed. She said that she rejected Leonard's account of the crimes, and that she believed he was fully aware of what he was doing during the attack and the following robbery.
Following the ruling, members of the trail victim's family said that they felt the sentence would give them peace of mind. The woman is doing well, they said, and would feel safer knowing her assailant would never be free again.
As part of his plea bargain Leonard waived his right to appeal his conviction, but has 30 days to appeal his sentence.