When investigators finally found the bodies of Emily Amada Quijano and her 3-year-old son in the middle of the desert in Juab County, prosecutor Lance Bastian said he imagined the remains would be “buried respectfully.”
He hoped maybe the toddler would be settled against the body of his mother, or maybe both bodies would be side by side in the shallow grave five miles south of Eureka.
Instead, Bastian described the remains as “dumped” and “cramped” in a hole along with a single cigarette butt the killer abandoned in the grave dirt.
“I can’t think of a better way to describe Christopher Poulson than cold-blooded,” Bastian said.
During the sentencing on Thursday, Poulson sat quiet in shackles as Judge Robert Lunnen sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison for murder, a first-degree felony, and one to 15 years to life for manslaughter, a second-degree felony.
“I hope that somehow those that have been affected so deeply by what’s occurred will somehow find a way to heal,” Lunnen said. “I wish I could do more, but I can’t.”
For almost four years, family members and friends were left without answers when 3-year-old Gabriel and Emily Quijano, also affectionately known as Emma, suddenly disappeared on Sept. 8, 2015.
“My Emma and Gabe are not coming home to me,” said Quijano's father, Jesse Quijano, through sobs. “All of this is finally sinking in and it’s tearing my heart to shreds.”
Investigators learned Emily Quijano missed shifts at work, classes at the Utah College of Massage Therapy and a child custody exchange with her ex-husband. Her vehicle was found abandoned in St. George with belongings and a child’s car seat inside.
Investigators searched Poulson’s apartment and found Emily Quijano's belongings like shoes, toys, makeup and a guitar and amplifier were still there. The two were dating at the time she went missing.
“This monster let this family spend four long years in agony wondering what happened to their loved ones,” wrote Carlie Quijano, a sister-in-law to Emily Quijano, in a statement read by attorneys. “Nobody deserves this kind of pain in their lives.”
Poulson told detectives he and Emily Quijano had fought and she had left him to babysit Gabriel on the night she stopped contacting family members and friends.
Poulson sold his vehicle in October and then moved to Hawaii.
But in November 2017, investigators arrested Poulson and extradited him to Utah to face murder charges in the deaths of Emily Quijano and her son.
“What a cruel and wicked facade he maintained,” said Diana Quijano, the stepmother to Emily Quijano. “His lies served to delay an investigation to what happened to our sweet Emma.”
In exchange for a plea deal, Poulson eventually revealed he had been drinking and using meth when he babysat Gabriel the day before the disappearance.
He originally told investigators that the toddler was sitting on a counter and Poulson pushed him off, causing the boy to hit his head.
But Poulson later admitted he didn’t remember exactly what he did because the drugs he’d taken caused him to blackout. He only remembers coming to himself and finding Gabriel “in bad shape” and “pretty bruised all over.”
“Chris Poulson beat little Gabe enough to kill him,” said Mary Recendez, an aunt. “What kind of evil monster would beat an innocent child to death?”
When Emily Quijano arrived home from work, she went to bed, presuming her son was asleep. In the morning when Poulson checked on Gabriel, he found the boy had died.
Poulson “panicked,” prosecutors said, and he took a handgun, wrapped the weapon in a towel and shot Emily Quijano while she slept.
“Chris Poulson has done the unthinkable and killed not only once, but twice,” said Lupe Quijano, another aunt. “No parent should have to endure their child was murdered.”
Investigators learned Poulson moved the bodies to the trunk of his vehicle, drove to Walmart to buy a shovel and work gloves and buried the bodies. He then pawned Emily Quijano's belongings and abandoned her car in St. George, using a false name and cash to ride public transportation back to Utah County.
“He gave me more details. He described those events and in all those interactions,” Bastian paused and stuttered for words, “I’ve seen nothing from Mr. Poulson. No emotion, no remorse, no regret.”
A slideshow of family photographs played at one point in the sentencing, showing photos of Emily Quijano in a hospital gown holding newborn Gabriel to her chest, Gabriel playing in an inflatable pool and family members grinning at the camera with arms thrown over Quijano's shoulders.
Emily Quijano had a beautiful singing voice, a witty sense of humor and showed love for her family through hugs and kisses, Diana Quijano said. Gabriel loved playing with dinosaurs and enjoyed showing off his skills in speaking English and Spanish.
“We constantly second-guess ourselves. Were there warning signs we missed? Could we have done something to prevent these murders?” she said. “I take comfort that our Emma and Gabe are in heaven, wrapped in the loving arms of God.”
Libby Quijano, Emily Quijano's sister, said she never felt anger or hatred toward Chris throughout the court case.
“Wherever people are in grieving, please don’t hang on to hate,” she said. “I understand that justice must be served. But I don’t take joy in it.”
Poulson’s father, Richard Poulson, said his family and the Quijano family have grown close through the years as they comforted one another.
“On behalf of our family, we are very sorry for what happened to Emily and Gabe,” he said.
Brenda Marsh, Emily’s mother, thanked the judge, attorneys, detectives and all those involved in the search and investigation throughout the years.
“Seeing Chris go to prison brings me no joy, but it brings me peace,” she said. “Emily and Gabe are so very loved and missed.”