ST. GEORGE – A 2014 Toquerville murder case is nearing its conclusion with the entering of a guilty plea Thursday from the teenage suspect accused of killing his neighbor.
Joshua Canfield, 19, of Toquerville, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder and other charges in 5th District Court Thursday. The charges are related to the slaying of 58-year-old Toquerville resident Geraldine Bommerito in March 2014.
According to court records, Canfield shot Bommerito, stole her car and then set it on fire near Springdale where police caught up with him. He was arrested following a fight with officers.
Canfield waived his right to a preliminary hearing and pleaded guilty to the murder as part of a plea deal that dropped some of the charges originally attached to the case.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder and first-degree felony aggravated robbery, three second-degree felonies related to arson and the thefts of a firearm and a vehicle, and a class A misdemeanor for assaulting a peace officer.
The first-degree felonies carry potential prison terms of 15 years to life, while the second-degree felonies carry possible terms of one to 15 years.
“As a part of the (plea) terms, we’ve agreed to run these (charges) concurrently,” Deputy Washington County Attorney Zachary Weiland said. “We believe he would serve a minimum of 20 years to life.”
The court ordered a presentencing investigation be conducted and scheduled Canfield’s sentencing for March 31.
Prior to Canfield’s entering a guilty plea, he was released from of the Utah State Hospital in December 2015 and transferred to the custody of the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility, having been declared competent to proceed with court hearings.
Canfield was originally sent to the State Hospital in May 2015 after the court found him incompetent.
Leading up to Canfield being sent to the State Hospital, his attorney Edward Flint questioned the results of mental evaluations previously conducted on his client that concluded he was competent.
Canfield had been kept in solitary confinement for more than a year at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility by the time of the May hearing. During that time, he had attempted suicide multiple times, Flint said.
The court ultimately ordered Canfield be sent to the State Hospital for evaluation after the mental health professionals who had conducted the original evaluations were not available to be cross-examined in the May hearing.
“We had to fight hard to get him to the state hospital, get diagnosed and treated for the first time in his life,” Flint said in an email Friday.
Flint has argued that Canfield has been mentally ill and has gone without diagnosis and treatment for a long time. His client’s stay at the State Hospital has since resolved that.
When it comes time for Canfield to go before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, Flint said the board will be able to analyze Canfield’s psychiatric record when it considers any possibility of parole.
“That’s what all this was about from my angle,” Flint said. “Not the heinous crime committed, but protecting his constitutional rights to be evaluated and be competent to make the decision to plead guilty. He is now competent, he made the decision.”
Canfield pleaded guilty to killing Bommerito during a possible residential burglary on March 19, 2014.
According to court records, Washington County Sheriff’s deputies were already investigating a residential burglary in Toquerville in which two firearms and some collectible coins were reported stolen. Canfield was identified as a possible suspect in the case.
He used some of the collectible coins at a gas station in Washington City. The action raised suspicion and police were contacted about the incident. Authorities were given a description of the car Canfield was driving which led them to Bommerito’s home. That is when the deputies found Bommerito’s body.
Police tracked the car and Canfield to Springdale. The car had been abandoned and set on fire near the resort town. Canfield was found and was allegedly combative with officers when taken into custody. At one point, he attempted to harm himself and was placed on suicide watch after being incarcerated at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility.
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