CEDAR CITY — Gavin Michael Haar received the maximum sentence Wednesday in the Cedar City 5th District Court for second-degree felony child abuse and the first-degree felony murder of 2-year-old Christopher Leader Jr.
Haar was found guilty of both counts by a jury after standing trial in February.
During Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, Judge Keith Barnes heard from several of Christopher’s family members on the impact of his death.
Joshua Bell, Christopher’s grandfather, told the court he will not get the chance to meet his grandson.
“Christopher’s murder has all but torn our family apart,” Bell said. “Because of this, I have a grandson who I never get to meet in person. … My wife and I have been denied the opportunity to show him our love and affection in a tangible way.”
Bell’s wife and Christopher’s grandmother, Kristen, also addressed the court.
“The pain that this has caused my family is unreal — as well as the Leader family. I know they suffer as much as we do,” she said. “I will never get to hold Christopher; I will never get to tell him I love him ever again.”
Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson asked for the maximum sentence to be given for both counts and that they be served consecutively. Dotson also asked that Haar not receive any credit toward his sentences for time already served, due to multiple disciplinary reports from his time thus far in the Iron County Jail, as well as the fact that Haar left the state following Christopher’s death.
Another consideration Dotson suggested involved the number of people affected by the young boy’s death, citing family members.
“In addition to little Christopher, who was gentle and innocent — there are multiple victims in this case,” Dotson said.
Dotson added details of Haar’s character and history of problems with abiding by the law.
“He admitted to lying multiple times throughout the (investigation),” Dotson said. “He tried to shift blame and say that this whole thing was somebody else’s fault to save himself.”
Defense attorney Troy Sundquist asked that Haar not be responsible for restitution regarding travel expenses to attend hearings related to the case, as well as requesting concurrent sentences instead of consecutive.
Haar’s mother also addressed the court and said she believes her son is innocent.
“I do genuinely believe he loved that child,” she said. “He’s always been there for his siblings; he’s never ever showed any sort of aggression.”
Haar told the court he didn’t want to accept guilt for something he didn’t do.
“I’m sorry I lied,” Haar said. “I thought I could protect Brittany. I thought I could change things.”
Before delivering the sentence, Barnes addressed Christopher’s family in the courtroom, the emotion evident in his voice. He told family members that he got to know Christopher through the trial.
“He seemed to be certainly a very tender child,” Barnes said. “He certainly seemed to make a huge impact on many, many people.”
Barnes said the anger and sadness that Christopher’s loved ones likely feel was justified but that perhaps the boy would want his family to keep the good memories in mind.
“I think that the little Chris that I’ve gotten to know — he would tell you not to be angry, not to be mad, but for you to move on from this in any way that you can,” he said. “Be able to remember the great times that you had with little Chris, the tender little guy that he was. I think that that’s what little Chris would want.”
After addressing the family members, Barnes sentenced Haar to the maximum sentences allowed for both charges: 15 years to life in Utah State Prison for murder and one to 15 years in Utah State Prison for child abuse. The sentences will be served consecutively.
Following Haar’s sentencing, Dotson told Cedar City News he believes the court was correct to sentence the maximum penalty possible.
“We feel like justice is hard to attain in this case, because little Christopher is not here,” Dotson said. “Both felony counts will run consecutively, which requires Haar to serve a minimum of 16 years to life in prison for committing the brutal murder of innocent Christopher Leader Jr. This is a tragic case that has impacted many lives, and I believe the court was correct to impose the maximum sentence.”
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