ST. GEORGE — The man implicated in a murder-for-hire scheme in November appeared in court Thursday where he was sentenced on six first-degree felony crimes, including aggravated sexual abuse and solicitation involving attempts to contract the murder of a teenage witness.
Kristoffer Jones, 30, appeared in 5th District Court via video during a sentencing hearing on three first-degree felony counts of criminal solicitation of murder. He was also sentenced on three first-degree felony counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child.
Washington County Attorney Ryan Shaum appeared also via video with several of the victim’s family members, who elected not to speak during the hearing but instead provided written victim impact statements that were reviewed by District Judge John J. Walton prior to the hearing.
Shaum asked that all sentences in both cases be “run consecutive to each other,” and he made it clear he would ask for a much stiffer sentence if the law allowed.
“Quite frankly your honor, if I could find a way to do it — life without parole,” Shaum said, “I would do it.”
Shaum went on to say the solicitation charge to have the victim murdered was “shocking” and added that Jones “has shown zero remorse.”
Defense Attorney Caleb Cottam told the court that his client was well aware that lengthy prison sentences were a possibility when he entered into a plea agreement with the state in March, wherein four counts of rape of a child, second-degree felony sexual abuse of a child and two third-degree felony charges for failing to register as a sex offender were dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea for the other charges.
Thursday’s sentencing hearing stems from charges filed in two separate cases, one of which was filed in November after an investigation spanning several months revealed that while incarcerated, Jones allegedly solicited several inmates to either kill or assist in coordinating the murder of a juvenile witness/victim.
The targeted person was part of a case resulting from a January 2019 investigation conducted by the St George Police Department involving a 13-year-old child and which led to Jones’ original incarceration.
At the sentencing hearing, Cottam introduced Jones’ mother, Rachelle Jones, who was attending by phone to address the court on behalf of her son.
She opened her statement by reading a letter to her son, saying that she was “heartsick and angry” over his actions. She also apologized to her son for the physical and verbal abuse he experienced during his childhood, telling him she was “truly sorry” for what went on during his formative years.
She told her son that he could choose a different path, to take responsibility for what his actions have done to his family, and “no matter where you are at, it doesn’t matter if you’re in prison – you can still be the best person you can be.” She added that she would continue to improve her own life as he serves his time in prison.
The defendant’s mother closed by saying, “I love you unconditionally – you are my son.”
Cottam then addressed the court on behalf of his client, saying that drugs were a “large factor” that played a role in the defendant’s criminal actions while committing the crimes, adding that while many may view that as an excuse, “it is still something the court should consider.”
He also said his client was both sexually and physically abused as a child, suffered neglect due to his mother’s drug addiction and that Jones was left to fend for himself for extended periods of time.
He again qualified his statements by saying, “This is not an explanation, this is not an excuse,” but rather, it was information he was asking the court to consider during sentencing and to be used by the Department of Corrections to provide the programs needed to rehabilitate Jones as he serves out his sentence.
Jones also addressed the court.
“There’s nothing I can say that would excuse my actions,” he said, but added that he wanted the court to know that he “deeply regrets” his actions and he is working to change the course of his life and use the time in custody to make better choices.
The defendant addressed his mother in an emotional statement, telling her that he would change his life for the better.
Shaum then addressed the court and said the state is asking for the maximum sentence in both cases, which is 15-years to life on each of the six charges, and reiterated his request for the sentences to run consecutively.
He said if the maximum sentence were to be imposed for each of the six first-degree felonies, taking into account the 40% reduction on each of the subsequent sentences imposed by the court, “that is a total of 36 years for both cases.”
“We certainly believe that is reasonable,” he said.
Shaum went on to say that once the defendant begins his sentence, it is up to the parole board to decide whether Jones has “earned the right to be out in society.”
However, Walton didn’t agree with the recommendation, saying it wasn’t a sentencing scheme the court found “appropriate.” He referred to the presentence report, which revealed that Jones’ childhood experiences were “off the chart” and were scored at a “9 out of 10.”
“That’s tragic,” he said, adding that using the word “tragic” was an understatement.
Despite that, Walton agreed with the state’s position that Jones presents a danger to the public, “which is also an understatement.”
The judge then ordered Jones to serve 15 years to life on each of the first-degree aggravated sexual abuse charges that would run consecutively.
On the solicitation case, Jones was sentenced to serve five years to life on each of the criminal solicitation charges that would also run consecutively, Walton said.
The defendant was ordered to begin serving his sentences immediately and the transport order to Utah State Prison was signed by Judge Walton during the hearing.
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