ST. GEORGE – Paul Clifford Ashton pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges Wednesday as a part of a plea deal involving the Dec. 11, 2010, murders of Jerrica Christensen, 20, of Leeds, and Brandie Jerden, 27, of St. George, and the attempted murder of James Fiske, also of St. George.
According to court documents, on Dec. 11, 2010, at approximately 3:15 a.m., police responded to 575 S. Main St. in St. George where they encountered the wounded Fiske and slain Christensen and Jerden. Fiske had suffered a gunshot wound. One of the deceased women had also been shot, while the other appeared to have succumbed to incised wounds. The wounds were allegedly inflicted on the woman as a means to keep her from testifying about the incident.
Ashton, 34, of St. George, appeared in Fifth District Court today with his lawyers, Douglas Terry and Ryan Stout, before Judge James Shumate, and entered a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to the first-degree felony aggravated murder of Jerden, the first-degree felony aggravated attempted murder of Fiske, and third-degree felony possession of methamphetamine.
A second first-degree felony aggravated murder count for the death of Christensen was dropped as a part of the plea deal.
Before the resolution hearing began, Judge Shumate met with Ashton’s attorney, as well as prosecuting attorney Brian Filter of the Washington County Attorney’s Office, and went over the points of the plea deal. Both sides recommended the plea deal and endorsed it to the court, Shumate told Ashton.
Filter also noted the terms of the plea deal was acceptable to the families of the victims as well.
“It’s been a long road for the victim’s families,” Terry said.
Concerning the two-and-a-half-year length of court proceedings, Terry said it wasn’t uncommon for such cases to take that long. He said a wrench had been thrown into the court proceedings recently due to an unrelated federal case involving the October 2010 kidnapping and murder of Bradley Eitner which Ashton was being prosecuted for; on May 5, Ashton pleaded guilty to Eitner’s murder and was placed in federal custody.
Terry said Ashton has “taken responsibility for his conduct” that resulted in the murder of Jerden and the attempted murder of Fiske, and that is it the desire of Ashton and his attorneys that the families of the victims be able to find a sense of closure and be able to move on.
Concerning the plea deal, Filter said the aggravated murder charge connected to Christensen’s death was dropped because it is believed Ashton was ancillary to her death, and that he was not directly responsible for it.
“We will (go after) those we feel are responsible for that death,” Filter said, and added, “On behalf of the state of Utah we are pleased to have obtained justice for Brandie Jerden and James Fiske.”
Filter was unable to comment at the courthouse involving Brandon Smith, 31, of Santa Clara, who was also involved in the Dec. 11, 2010 slayings, and said that a gag order had been issued to insure the integrity of the Smith case is not tainted by the Ashton case.
Smith, who has been charged with first-degree aggravated murder and third-degree aggravated assault, has a preliminary hearing set for Oct. 7-11.
Ashton will be sentenced on Aug. 6 at 9 a.m., in the federal case, and at 11 a.m., in the state case. In both cases he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ellen Hensley, Christensen’s mother, was in attendance at the resolution hearing and quickly left the courtroom in tears after the hearing concluded.
A motive behind the incident has yet to determined. Referring to the gag-order in relation to the pending Smith trial, Filter was not able to comment regarding the matter.
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