ST. GEORGE – A LaVerkin man pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempting to kidnap a teenage girl at gunpoint while she was on her way to school.
On the day a jury trial was set to begin, Earl Brandon Chappell, 41, pleaded guilty in 5th District Court to second-degree felony charges of attempted aggravated kidnapping and attempted aggravated robbery and to a third-degree felony charge of aggravated assault.
Under the amended charges Chappell will serve a minimum of three years in prison with the potential of serving much longer, thanks a to three-to-30-year prison sentence.
Ed Flint, Chappell’s attorney, said it was a better deal then what his client was originally facing – a first-degree felony charge of aggravated kidnapping. First-degree felonies carry the potential of life in prison following conviction.
The family of the victim involved was also agreeable with the terms of the plea deal, Deputy Washington County Attorney Ryan Shaum said. They were not present in court Wednesday due to being out of state.
“We feel it is a fair outcome in this case,” Shaum said.
The original first-degree felony charge stems from the March 4, 2015, incident in which Chappell pulled a gun on a 15-year-old Hurricane High School student walking to school.
During a preliminary hearing, the teen said she turned around to find a man, later identified as Chappell, following her. Chappell pointed a semiautomatic pistol at her and told her to get into a car parked alongside the road.
The teen saw some people across the street and started screaming, she said. Chappell then told her to “go ahead and run.” Subsequently, he left the area.
The girl ran to the high school and told her story to the school’s resource officer – law enforcement personnel assigned to the school.
The officer visited the Zion Food Mart convenience store nearby to see if it had any surveillance footage of the man who had followed the girl. He also asked the clerk there if she had seen anyone matching the description the girl had given of the man. The clerk said she had.
The second-degree felony charge of aggravated attempted robbery came out of the clerk’s account, surveillance footage and other evidence gathered by the state, Shaum said.
“Before he attempted the kidnapping, he had gone into the convenience store with a handgun and was casing it out,” Shuam said. “(He) was going to rob the convenience store, and for whatever reason, he had decided to abandon that plan and was walking back to his car. That is where he came up from behind on the female victim in the case and attempted to kidnap her.”
The clerk at the convenience store was watching Chappell intently “because he was not acting normal,” Shaum said. The clerk said in her statement to authorities that she saw a bulge underneath the coat Chappell to be a handgun. He also touched the bulge repeatedly while in the store. This led the clerk to fear the store was about to be robbed, Shaum said.
Chappell has never given a reason for potentially committing an armed robbery and then a kidnapping, Shaum said.
“We don’t know,” Shaum said of Chappell’s motive. “He hasn’t given us a statement of what his motive was.”
Following the kidnapping attempt, police were able to locate the car Chappell allegedly told the teen to get into, which ultimately led officers to the man’s home in LaVerkin.
Chappell was taken into custody at his home without incident 11 hours after the alleged kidnapping attempt.
The incident resulted in six schools in the Hurricane area being put on lock-out for at least two hours, meaning nobody was allowed to enter the schools without administrative approval during that time. Police meanwhile conducted their investigation and searched for the suspect.
Chappell will serve a minimum of three years in prison under the plea deal, with the potential for 30 years. Each second-degree felony carries a one-to-15 year sentence. Chappell will serve those terms consecutively. An extra year was added onto the minimum sentence as as enhancement due to using a firearm during a crime.
The third-degree felony, which carries a maximum of five years in prison, will be served concurrently with the other terms.
The deal gives Chappell a better chance of getting paroled from prison at some point in the future, Flint said. The Board of Pardons and Parole would likely keep Chappell in prison for a long while if he had a first-degree felony hanging over this head.
“He never pulled a gun on the store, but did he take a substantial step toward committing that crime? The answer for purposes of getting a better deal is ‘sure,’” Flint said, “because now he has two one-to-15 (prison terms) instead of a minimum of six (years) to life.”
Adult Probation and Parole is conducting an investigation into Chappell’s background to be presented to the court at sentencing, scheduled for July 18.
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