After an emotional and discordant court hearing, a 4th District Court judge sentenced an American Fork man to prison for beating his stepfather to death almost two years ago.
Jace Zeeman, 29, pleaded guilty in June to criminal homicide by assault, a first-degree felony amended to a third-degree felony in the plea agreement. Two additional felony charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child were dismissed.
He was sentenced to serve zero to five years at the Utah State Prison, although prosecutors estimate he will likely only serve two years based on the matrix system used by the court.
“If this case is about anything, it’s probably about how much violence we will tolerate in our homes and communities,” said Judge James Taylor.
On the night of August 27, 2017, Zeeman was issued a citation for a domestic violence dispute with his now ex-wife. He was ordered to leave the home and he went to his mother’s residence in American Fork, according to police reports.
After arriving, Zeeman confronted his stepfather, Brandon Bourgeois, who was shoving and yelling at his mother outside the residence.
A fight started between the two men and Zeeman knocked Bourgeois to the ground and started hitting him continuously, court documents stated.
“The defendant’s brother and mother tried to pull the defendant off of the victim, but were unable to stop the defendant from hitting the victim,” charges state. “When the defendant finally stopped hitting the victim, the victim was not breathing and had no pulse.”
Neighbors called 911 and first responders were able to restore Bourgeois’ pulse and breathing, police reported.
Bourgeois was “covered in blood” and suffered multiple facial fractures, lacerations to his eyes and forehead, various abrasions, and a severe brain injury. Charges state he died from his injuries after spending almost a month on life support.
Mindee Clark, one of Bourgeois’ sisters, said her brother loved coaching sports teams in his community and was always willing to lend a hand.
“Brandon was a man of few words, but he would always call me out of the blue and ask what’s up or if I needed anything,” she said at the sentencing.
The fatal fight left Bourgeois covered from “head to toe” with bruises, she explained, and the death and court case ripped the family apart.
“What happened that night went far, far beyond someone defending themselves,” she said. “Jace will serve his sentence and return home to his friends and family. My brother doesn’t get that opportunity.”
Another sister, Lindsay Farnsworth, argued Zeeman had other domestic violence incidents and repeatedly refused to take accountability for his actions.
“I hope at some point he is sorry for taking my brother’s life and not for just getting caught,” she said.
Zeeman’s mother, Brenda Bourgeois, and brothers wept and called the death “a tragic accident” in their statements. Each acknowledged that Bourgeois was a good father when he was sober but became scary and violent when he drank alcohol.
Defense attorney John Easton argued Zeeman was trying to protect his mother when the fight occurred.
“He saw the look of terror in her eyes and came to aid his mother with tragic consequences,” he said.
But Utah County attorney Kelsy Young said the violent altercation went beyond self-defense.
“This is a tragic case, but it most certainly was not a tragic accident,” she said. “To say he doesn’t have anger issues or isn’t a public threat is inaccurate.”
During the sentencing, Zeeman cried as he spoke about the relationship between himself and his stepfather. Deputies stopped him from turning and facing the courtroom when he tried to apologize to Bourgeois’ family members.
“I was scared,” he said. “I was in complete shock.”
He expressed anger about the facts included in the court documents, giving his own recount of the fight. He blamed first responders of causing his stepfather’s death by improperly performing CPR.
“I had no other option but to defend myself,” he said.
Zeeman previously served with the Utah National Guard from 2012 until he was honorably discharged in November 2018.