Orem man sentenced to life without parole for brutal murder

2013-05-21T00:26:00Z 2013-06-27T12:28:43Z Orem man sentenced to life without parole for brutal murderPaige Fieldsted - Daily Herald Daily Herald
May 21, 2013 12:26 am  • 

PROVO -- Steven Gray showed little emotion as he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Jennifer Brackenbury.

Gray pleaded guilty in March to charges of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, mayhem, a second-degree felony, and abuse or desecration of a human body, a third-degree felony.

As part of a plea deal to take the death penalty off the table, Gray agreed to plead guilty and be sentenced to life without parole, but sentences for the other two charges still had to be imposed.

Gray's defense attorney, Jennifer Ranson, argued that the three sentences should run concurrently because they were part of one criminal episode. She described the rough start to life Gray had, including being abused by several adults in his life. She also talked about the drug abuse and mental health issues Gray has dealt with and said Gray has taken responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty.

"He has been struggling to understand how this happened, he has been struggling to understand how he could have done such a terrible, terrible thing," Ranson said. "He will likely struggle with that for the rest of his life. It is shocking even to himself."

Prosecutor Julia Thomas said she didn't want Monday's hearing to be just a formality, that the victim needed some sort of recognition. She said Brackenbury had two brothers, one who lives in California and another who lives in Salt Lake. Neither could be at the sentencing because they said it would be too difficult emotionally.

Thomas introduced a small amount of evidence to 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock to show the depravity of Gray's crime. Thomas showed pictures of several knives, two of which were severely bent. She said that Gray used five knives in the attack and that the fact that he bent two of them shows the force he used during the attack on Brackenbury.

Medical examiners found at least 42 stab wounds to Brackenbury's chest and stomach area, another 25 or more to her pubic area, her throat had been slit and parts of her body had been cut off. Thomas said she also had several rib fractures, which again showed the force Gray was using.

"She didn't do anything. They weren't fighting, he wasn't mad at her, she wasn't mad at him, he just attacked her," Thomas said. "This is a case that clearly could have resulted in the death penalty and I don't know if there will ever be another case that is more deserving."

Thomas said Brackenbury's family didn't want the death penalty but said her only regret is that now the corrections community and inmate population is at risk.

Laycock sentenced Gray to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the aggravated murder charge, one to 15 years for the mayhem charge and zero to five years for the abuse of a human body charge. The three sentences will run consecutively. Laycock said the consecutive sentence wouldn't have much of an impact because Gray will already be serving life.

"This was a horrendous thing you did. No one will ever understand, I don't know if you will ever understand," Laycock said to Gray. "I find it appropriate that counts two and three run consecutive to count one and to each other. I do that primarily so the board of pardons understands my view of what happened and what you did to a woman that at one point you must have loved."

It was noted before the sentencing that Gray had submitted two letters to Laycock, one describing mistreatment at the Utah County Jail by deputies and other inmates, and another stating that he wished to withdraw his guilty pleas. Ranson explained that Gray had only wanted to withdraw his pleas because of the treatment he had been receiving at the jail but that he still wanted to take responsibility for his actions. Laycock said sentencing Gray to prison would alleviate any jail issues since he would be transported to the state prison as soon as possible.

Brackenbury was murdered in October, but her body wasn't found until several days later. Gray fled to Washington State after the attack, where he eventually admitted his crimes to a police officer he had worked with on a drug case in the past.

-- Paige Fieldsted covers robberies, burglaries, murders and any other crimes and court cases happening in Utah County. Follow Paige on Twitter at @paigefieldsted.
Read more from Paige Fieldsted here.

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