ST. GEORGE — A man accused of killing his roommate and well-known local cook at the apartment the two men shared on 300 East in St. George was sentenced to prison during a hearing held Tuesday.
Joshua Anthony Huntsman, 25, appeared in 5th District Court for a sentencing hearing via video after pleading guilty to first-degree felony murder last month.
The charges are related to the murder of 62-year-old Gary Hall, a long-time resident of St. George who was found shot to death inside the apartment last July.
The incident began when officers were dispatched to the apartment complex to conduct a welfare check on Hall after the general manager of Denny’s on St. George Boulevard contacted police to say the 37-year veteran cook failed to show up for work or call in, and once they forced entry into the apartment they found Hall lying dead in a pool of blood and covered with a blanket.
It was later determined during an autopsy that Hall sustained two gunshot wounds to the head, one to the front of the face and the other to the back of the head.
Huntsman fled to Santa Rosa, California, shortly after the murder and was arrested after authorities there located the Honda parked at a grocery store. He was arrested a short time later and then extradited back to Washington County. He has remained in jail without bail ever since.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Huntsman’s defense attorney, Edward Flint, said his client never entered a “not guilty” plea, but instead postponed the arraignment hearing, which is when he pleaded guilty to the charge.
“That was his intent from the very beginning our Honor,” Flint said.
The attorney went on to say his client has done the very best he can, under his circumstances, to step up and be responsible for his actions, to be accountable and to accept responsibility.
Flint reiterated that Hall did nothing to deserve what happened to him, and that his client has always believed that. He said Huntsman “has the greatest remorse and regret for what he did,” adding that all of the sorry in the world will never bring Hall back.
He also mentioned the presentence report, which was “fairly thin and minimal” due to his client having no criminal history until this incident.
Flint also went over the psychiatric report that stated that so many of the adults in his life when he was very, very young had an opportunity to mentor him and guide him in the correct direction – but they did not do that.
Those failures on the part of the adults in his life were compounded by one failure after another until he was untreated and became suicidal, which is when his roommate, “Gary Hall, a totally innocent man, came home and startled him.”
Flint closed by saying he hopes the 20-plus years his client spends in prison will provide both drug addiction and mental health treatment, as opposed to serving only as a facility meant to “warehouse” his client for the next two decades or so.
Regardless, Flint said, “at this point, the court needs to send him to prison as prescribed by law.”
Gary’s daughter, Krystal Hall, also addressed the court and opened by citing a quote from A.A. Milne.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,” she said, adding that the quote reminded her of the goodbye she never got the chance to say to her father.
She also said that Huntsman had so many opportunities to do the right thing, but instead he took her father’s life.
“You snuffed out 62 years of kindness, compassion, generosity, loyalty and love,” she said.
His daughter also said she didn’t feel sorry for the defendant, but that her heart breaks for the families of both the victim and the defendant.
Prosecutor Eric Gentry represented the state and addressed the court during the hearing by saying there is only one statutory sentence for murder in Utah, which is 15 to life – regardless, he said, of how anyone personally feels about what is right or just.
He also said he was struck by the sheer number of people who loved Gary Hall, and said that everyone the prosecutor spoke to repeated over and over again “these beautiful sentiments about this apparently wonderful person. I wish I had known him,” Gentry said.
Gentry went on to saying he was also struck by the words used to describe Gary Hall’s passing, similar words that came up over and over again, he said.
“Phrases such as he was stolen, taken, ripped away and robbed of his life,” he said.
It is impossible to overstate the effect that this tragic, inexplicable, infuriating crime has had on a family that loved Mr. Hall, he said, and on the community that loved him.
He also described the case as one that involved a murder victim who was “ truly a victim in every sense of the word,” who had done nothing to “deserve his fate.”
In fact, Gentry said, Gary Hall went out of his way to help the defendant who then “snuffed out his life.”
“It’s a complete and utter tragedy,” Gentry said in closing.
Huntsman also addressed the court by saying how sorry he was for what happened and there was no way to fix anything – “especially not for the people I have hurt.”
He also said he was taking full responsibility for the crime and that his only hope is to “do something positive with the rest of my life, whatever that may be.”
District Judge Jeffery Wilcox then spoke and described the incident as “a senseless, senseless act of murder – it’s a complete and utter tragedy.”
He went on to say the crime has destroyed so many people beyond Gary Hall himself, For instance, as he listened and watched the testimony during the hearing, he saw the defendant’s mother crying, one who is now experiencing a loss that many don’t ever experience, Wilcox said.
“We don’t see that there is a tragedy in both families,” Wilcox said, adding that he agreed with the sentiments of Gary Hall’s daughter when she said she felt sorry for both families in the case.
He also said he was moved while reading the “many, many letters” from Gary Halls family and friends, adding it was clear he was loved by so many people.
As to the statement Huntsman made that he shot Hall because he was startled, Wilcox said it still didn’t excuse what happened, adding that the only right thing the defendant has done has been to accept responsibility and not force the state to go to trial by pleading guilty to the crime.
“I will take it at face value what you said that you are sorry,” Wilcox said. “But that cannot bring back the life of a good man who influenced so many people in a loving and good way.”
He also said the court was bound by a statutory sentence, which left no room for the judge to render any other sentence in the case than a sentence of imprisonment of not less than 15 years and which may be for life – “and you are sentenced to that by this court,” Wilcox said.
He closed by saying Huntsman will be transported to Utah State Prison to begin serving out his sentence, and that the court could recommend he serve much longer than 15 years – but ultimately, that decision is out of the court’s hands and “is left up to the Board of Pardons.”
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