Judge sends teen to prison for ‘a long time’ following shooting of 14-year-old girl in St. George

Composite image with background image of 5th District Court and overlay image of Anthony Vega taken during sentencing hearing held via Webex in St. George, Utah, June 1, 2021 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The teen involved in a deadly shooting in St. George that cost a 14-year-old girl her life in 2020 was sentenced to prison during a hearing held Tuesday – an incident that also left two families destroyed.

2020 file photo of police responding to housing complex on North 2450 East in search of man suspected of shooting a 14-year-old girl, St. George, Utah, July 9, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

On Tuesday, 19-year-old Anthony Vega appeared before District Judge Jeffery C. Wilcox during a sentencing hearing held in 5th District Court on charges related to three cases, which included the case involving the shooting of the teen in 2020.

In April, the defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree felony manslaughter and obstruction of justice, as well as third-degree felony possession of a firearm by a restricted person.

The charges stem from an incident reported July 10, 2020, when emergency personnel were dispatched to a housing complex in the 600 block of 2450 East, a few blocks south of Deseret Industries.

Officers on scene learned that the teen girl, Trinity Leavitt, sustained a gunshot wound to the head. She later died from her injuries at the hospital.

Officers identified a suspect, later identified as Vega, who was subsequently found by police after an extensive search. He was arrested and booked into jail. Witnesses reported that minutes before the shooting, Vega was “playing with the handgun” and pointing it at several individuals while pulling the trigger.

Prosecutor Eric Gentry appears via Webex during Anthony Vegas’s sentencing hearing held in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, June 1, 2021 |Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

The gun involved in the incident was taken during a burglary committed shortly before the shooting, and in that case Vega was charged with five second-degree felonies, including one count of burglary of a dwelling and four counts of theft – charges he was also sentenced on during Tuesday’s hearing.

Prosecutor Eric Gentry represented the state and opened by saying there were members of the victim’s family who would like to address the court.

Trinity Leavitt’s mother, Billy Leavitt, spoke during the hearing, and opened by describing what Vega took from her when he pulled the trigger that day, things she will never get back, she said. She will never get another hug from her daughter, or see her graduate, or have children, she said.

“I will never get to see any of that because of your actions,” Leavitt said to Vega.

In reference to the amount of time Vega has been held since the shooting, Leavitt said that while it may be difficult to spend the last year in jail, “try planning a funeral for a family member that does not even have the privilege of reaching her 16th birthday.”

She asked the court to sentence Vega the maximum sentence on the charges related to the shooting. She then addressed the defendant by saying “you have no idea what you’ve taken away from this family.”

Wilcox then commented on the very “poignant” 13-14 page letter the mother wrote to the court prior to the hearing, saying the letter described what the shooting has done to their family very well.

The letter described “the heartache and anguish that a mom would go through,” Wilcox said, “and that you are continuing to go through with the tragic loss of your daughter.”

Another letter written by Lacey Downey was also read during the hearing and described the tragic loss the defendant’s actions have had on the family.

“Your horrendous act has devastated an entire family,” she said.

The victim’s brother, Tristan Leavitt, also spoke during the hearing, describing how he still wakes up and wants to go and tell his sister something – until he remembers she’s gone, he said. He said it didn’t matter whether the shooting was an accident or intentional because it won’t change the fact that his sister is still gone.

“That was my little sister. I love that kid more than I loved anyone,” he said.

Defense attorney Larry Meyers appears via Webex during Anthony Vegas’s sentencing hearing held in 5th District Court in St. George, Utah, June 1, 2021 |Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

The prosecutor addressed the court by saying the emotional statements made by the family of Trinity Leavitt, were a reflection of the pain the family is going through and serve as a reminder that criminal activity comes at a cost – an element that “sometimes we lose sight of,” he said.

“We sit in our various roles, and we don’t necessarily see the real human cost of criminal behavior,” Gentry said, adding that those costs are sometimes difficult to see because of so many moments where “the families grieve in private.”

He described the defendant’s actions as “thuggish behavior” that was sickening and took the young girl’s life.

He said Vega did nothing after he shot the young girl, and instead of rendering any aid, he ran out of the room.

“He did not call the police or 911 – he didn’t call an ambulance,” Gentry said, adding that the defendant’s only concern at the time was “that no one snitched.”

When Vega was caught, he said, the defendant blamed the shooting on someone else and then hid evidence and his focus went into keeping the witnesses quiet, misleading officers and concealing his identity.

The prosecutor closed by saying, “This wasn’t just a bad decision, your honor. It was a complete and utter tragedy.”

Anthony Vega, 19, appears in 5th District Court via Webex for sentencing following the 2020 shooting of a 14-year-old girl, St. George, Utah, June 1, 2021|Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

Gentry asked the court to run a number of the charges consecutive, including the charges in the burglary case filed less than three months before the shooting – since the firearm used to shoot Trinity Leavitt was stolen out of a home during the burglary the defendant later pleaded guilty to.

Larry Meyers, Vega’s defense attorney, read a letter written by the defendant’s mother, Tia Vega, to the court. In the letter, the mother wrote that Vega and Trinity Leavitt were good friends and went swimming and walked home together. She also wrote that her son has a big heart, a strong love of family and described how it pains her to think of how the public views her son.

She spoke of the difficulties her son has faced and how much he wants to do great things. She said she has gone down some very dark roads since the shooting, and how much it grieves her to know that her son will always be an outcast following the incident.

She also wrote that she will always stand by her son, and that the family is so sorry for what happened.

Meyers then addressed the court by saying the defense’s position is not to minimize what happened, but as Vega’s attorney, he is also obligated to present his client’s version of how the events unfolded on July 10, 2020. He also said that other than the three current cases, his client has no prior criminal history and is not a career criminal.

While the prosecutor focused on the character of his client in relation to this case, Meyers said there is more to his client’s character than what took place during this incident.

Vega is one of eight siblings, Meyers said, and is loved and loves his family. He said while his client made poor choices during the crimes, Vega did not instigate the incident, adding that all three cases were connected in a sense, as each case led to the next.

Vega chose to plead guilty instead of going to trial, Meyers said, adding that Vega is very sorry to the family, to the victim and for what had happened – and he will suffer for his actions for the rest of his life.

Meyers requested that the charges in all three cases run concurrently, instead of consecutively, as the prosecution requested. He said concurrent sentencing would serve to rehabilitate his client, who he said deserves to be rehabilitated and wants to be.

Vega addressed the court by saying he understands the charges and pleaded guilty to them because he was taking responsibility for his actions. He said he is not the selfish person he has been made out to be, but thinks of everyone else first.

The defendant became emotional when he spoke of Trinity Leavitt.

“I can’t bring Trinity back, and I’m sorry for what I did ,” he said. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this.”

Referring to Billy Leavitt, Vega said, “I never meant to take away her little daughter.”

Vega closed by addressing Wilcox. He said, “Your honor, I plead to these charges because I know that it’s right. Then I will go and change my life.”

When it was time for Wilcox to speak, he said to Vega, “you know you’re going to prison.”

He then said, “I am so sad. This is a tragic incident that really has destroyed two separate families.”

He then addressed Billy Leavitt by saying her loss was tragic and that the young girl was “taken” from the family who never had the chance to say goodbye.

The judge also said that any ruling of the court will not bring much closure to the family – and it will be an open wound the family will have to live with daily for “a long, long time.”

To Vega, Wilcox said he saw the defendant with his head in his hands throughout the sentencing, and said he believed his remorse was genuine.

“But I don’t know at this point that you – or any 18-year-old – can see the depth of the sorrow that your act created,” he said, adding if there is any redemption for the defendant, it will be “because you’ve got a mom that stands by you.”

He recognized that Vegas’s mother was also grieving, but the difference is that her son is still alive, while the Leavitt’s daughter is not – all they are left with are memories.

Wilcox told Vega he needs to spend “a long time in prison,” but went on to say that Vega also took responsibility for his actions by not forcing the victim’s family to endure a trial. He also acknowledged Vega’s minimal criminal history and young age as factors considered for sentencing.

Having the defendant have nothing else to look forward to other than life in prison for something he did as an 18-year-old was “beyond the mark,” he said.

Ultimately, Wilcox sentenced Vega to serve 1-15 years in Utah State Prison for each of the seven second-degree felonies, which will run consecutively, so once the defendant serves the first term the second one begins, and so on. Vega was also sentenced to serve 0-5 years on each of the three third-degree felonies that were ordered to be served concurrently to one another.

Wilcox also said that it is the Board of Pardons that ultimately decides how much time the defendant serves, a decision that will be influenced by the decisions Vega makes while incarcerated – both good and bad.

In closing, Wilcox said he ordered both consecutive and concurrent sentences in the case not to discount the suffering of the victim’s family, but depending on the choices the defendant makes while in prison, he “may have some time left outside of prison after he has paid a very serious price.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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