ST. GEORGE — Bronson Joseph Flynn, 26, was sentenced to prison after a jury found him guilty of murder in the shooting death of 34-year-old Spencer Maluafiti Tafua at the One and Only bar in 2018.
Flynn was found guilty on all seven charges before a packed St. George District courtroom on the evening of March 5, when the jury foreman read “guilty” following each of the seven charges filed by the state, including first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, using a dangerous weapon during a fight, carrying a dangerous weapon while under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under the influence.
The investigation involved an incident reported shortly after 1 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2018 when police responded to the bar on reports of gunfire and an individual brandishing a gun.
The shooting was reportedly a result of a dispute between bar patrons that started in an area in front of the bar. The shooting itself happened outside the establishment in front of an adjacent business, killing 34-year-old Spencer Maluafiti Tafua.
During sentencing, Prosecutor Jerry Jaeger said there were several members of Tafua’s family who would like to make a victim impact statement before the court. For the next two hours, the court heard from a dozen of Tafua’s relatives, including Lawrence Tafua, who told the court that Spencer Tafua was his youngest brother and was a good father and a caring family man.
“He would work hard every day to make sure that his kids and the family were taken care of,” he said, adding that his brother would look out for not only his family, but his friends as well, and was the motivator for good in the family.
“He’s no longer here to be there for his kids,” He said.
Collette Tafua, Spencer Tafua’s sister, also addressed the court by saying the loss of her brother has been devastating. She added the family will find peace “knowing that justice has been served,” but her brother “will forever be gone.”
Jaeger then addressed the court by saying while the presentence report did not address whether the sentences should run consecutively or concurrently, the state asked that the sentences run consecutively, meaning that Flynn would be required to serve the term for the first charge before the term on the second charge would begin, and so on.
Flynn’s defense counsel, Gary Pendleton, requested that the sentences run concurrently, or at the same time, “just because of the circumstances and the length of the term associated with count one,” which refers to the first-degree murder charge, he said, adding that he “doesn’t see any good” in running those terms consecutively.
Flynn also addressed the court by saying he is not a violent person, but he does believe people have a right to defend themselves. He also said he felt sadness over the loss experienced by the victim’s family, and he takes full responsibility for his actions.
“I’m not a killer, he said. “However, I will always have to live with taking a life.”
He also said he is “not a bad man,” and that “it was a bad night with bad circumstances.” He asked the court to consider a lesser sentence, adding that “everyone deserves a second chance — and it wouldn’t be wasted on me.”
District Judge Michael G. Westfall said he had no discretion as to the length of the sentence for the murder charge. “I’m pretty much bound,” he said, adding he must also consider the age of the defendant at the time the incident took place, as well as the fact there were two victims in the case, Tafua and another victim who was assaulted during the crime.
He also said another point of consideration involved the defendant’s character, rehabilitative needs and criminal history, or lack thereof in this case.
“There’s really isn’t much of a criminal history for Mr. Flynn,” Westfall said. “I have to take that into account as well.”
The judge then sentenced Flynn to serve 15 years to life for first-degree murder. He was also ordered to serve 0-5 years for each of the two counts of aggravated assault, 365 days in jail on the firearm charge, and 6-months each for the DUI, paraphernalia and misdemeanor weapons charge.
As to the question of concurrent or consecutive sentencing, the judge went on to explain that while there were factors that supported a ruling to run the sentences consecutively, upon further review of the facts of the case, he said, “the history, character and rehabilitative needs of the defendant are of prime concern here.”
He then ordered that all sentences be run concurrently at Utah State Prison, and that Flynn be given credit for time served since it took so long for the case to be resolved, “which was not his fault,” Westfall said. Flynn has remained in custody for more than a year and a half since his arrest Dec. 19, 2018.
The battle to sentencing
Both sides waged battle during the five-day jury trial following a myriad of continuances and pre-trial motions that were filed just weeks before jury selection began Feb. 29, a war that would continue beyond the jury’s verdict rendered one week later.
Since March, a number of pleadings have been filed following the jury’s verdict, including a motion for a new trial based on the premise that Flynn continued to trial based on his attorney’s advice, and that the jury was not properly instructed on the “extreme emotional distress” factor prior to deliberations.
That was based, in part, on the basis that Flynn has maintained that he was being pursued by the victim and acted in self-defense. During the trial, the defense brought up the fact that the medical examiner testified that the victim was within 1-2 feet of the barrel of the gun when it was fired.
Flynn’s attorney also filed a motion to lower the category of the offense, which the state countered by saying that under Utah law, the court is prohibited “from entering a lower category of offense for a murder conviction,” prosecutor Jaeger wrote in the document. That issue was brought into question when Pendleton countered by saying the court did have discretion to reduce the murder charge to second-degree murder.
Both motions were denied and the case was scheduled for sentencing.
As Wednesday’s hearing was winding down, following statements by both sides and the many victim-impact statements made before the court, Westfall closed by saying he was very persuaded to believe “that the world is less because Spencer Tafua’s not in it.”
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