ST. GEORGE – Paul Clifford Ashton was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in Fifth District Court Wednesday for the December 2010 murder of 27-year-old Brandie Jerden, of St. George.
The December 2010 incident involved the murders of Jerden and 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen, of Leeds, and the attempted murder of James Fiske, also of St. George. Ashton was originally charged with both murders and attempted murder. However, a plea deal dropped the charge involving Christensen when Ashton pleaded guilty in July.
Brandon Perry Smith, 31, of St. George, who was also involved in the incident, is being charged with Christensen’s murder and has a preliminary hearing set for the week of Oct. 7, 2013.
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.
There was a somber atmosphere in the courtroom as Ashton, 34, of St. George, appeared before Judge James Shumate for sentencing Wednesday afternoon. This appearance came a day after Ashton appeared in federal court to be sentenced for the October 2010 kidnapping and murder of Bradley Eitner. Ashton was sentenced to life plus 10 years in federal prison in that case.
Judge Shumate said he had reviewed the federal case and sentencing recommendations connected with it, namely having Asthon serve his state and federal-issued life sentences concurrently while in federal custody. Before sentencing was officially passed, however, he gave the parties involved a chance to address the court.
Jessie Jerden, brother of Brandie Jerden, stood up and spoke on his slain sister’s behalf. He said he didn’t think federal time would be hard enough on Ashton, and wished he could be sent to a foreign country where harsher punishments were allowed.
“I still never got a resolution over what (the murder) was over,” he said, referring to an apparent lack of motive in the case. “Was it worth it?” he asked, looking at Ashton. “I hope you live every day with the gravity of what you did.”
Although Asthon will be in jail the rest of his natural life, Jessie Jerden said, “It will never, ever bring my sister back.”
“I don’t believe it is possible for the survivors to ever sense that justice is done,” Shumate said. “The loss is too great.”
One of Ashton’s attorneys, Douglas Terry, said he often wondered what led his younger clients from periods as innocent children to a courtroom. He said it was an example of the “but for theory.” But for this or that circumstance, things could have turned out drastically different for Ashton and others.
Terry recalled an incident in 2007 in which Ashton was shot multiple times and left for dead in Odgen. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Ogden police suspected the incident was possibly gang-related. Terry also mentioned Ashton’s daily use of methamphetamine during the time of the killings as well. “But for” these incidents that changed the direction of Asthon’s life, Terry said, things could have turned out much different.
“Paul has taken responsibility for his conduct in this case,” Terry said, “and has forfeited his liberty for the rest of his life.”
Asthon then addressed the court. “I am truly, truly sorry,” he said. “I do have to live with (this) every day. I just want to be heard to say, “I am sorry.””
While saying “I’m sorry” is something, Brian Filter of the Washington County Attorney’s Office said, “It doesn’t undo the heinous actions he has undertaken.”
Filter acknowledged Ashton’s troubled past, but also said he wondered why he couldn’t have responded to others with empathy instead of anger. He also spoke to the apparent lack of motive Jessie Jerden referred to. “I can’t tell the court how many hours I’ve spent trying to find an answer,” he said.
“The defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison” and no longer be a threat to the community, Filter said.
“I agree with Mr. Terry that what we are doing here today is the culmination of a tragedy,” Judge Shumate said.
When the comments concluded, Judge Shumate sentenced Ashton to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Brandie Jerden. The sentence is to be served concurrently with the life sentence in federal prison for the Eitner murder Ashton was also sentenced to serve for the attempted murder of Fiske, and for possession of methamphetamine.
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- Murder victims identified, two men arrested
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