The mother of a 17-year-old murderer wants young criminals to learn from her family's tragedy.
Speaking minutes after hugging her son as he was led away to the Utah State Prison, Josie Hilsendeger pleaded for the attention of Utah teenagers."Please stop carrying guns and taking life . . . you only take your own life, too. Look at what this has done to my family! Wake up before it's too late," she said.
Third District Judge Homer Wilkinson had just sentenced her son, Anthony Archuleta, to five years to life for killing Roland "Bo" Zahorka at a phone booth earlier this year.
Wilkinson called Archuleta "just a boy," but he said he could not overlook the purposeful way the young man murdered Zahorka.
Witnesses testified during the trial that Archuleta, 16 at the time of the Feb. 3 incident, asked a friend for a pistol after arguing briefly with Zahorka at a gas station phone booth on 3900 South.
Wrapping his right hand around the gun, Archuleta cocked the hammer with his left hand, pressed the barrel against Zahorka's chest and fired.
Zahorka fell to the ground with his legs crossed, the bullet piercing his heart. Paramedics tried CPR, but the 38-year-old construction worker died on an emergency- room gurney.
Hilsendeger said she expected the stiff sentence but believes her son, if facing the same situation today, would have acted differently.
The shooting launched public protests and became a battle reverie for state lawmakers pushing get-tough laws for violent youths - a fact not lost on Archuleta's defense attorney, Brooke Wells.
"This trial occurred three weeks before the election, and I think . . . Anthony Archuleta became a focal point for the community to see that youth were being prosecuted. I believe he was, in essence, an example," she said, arguing for leniency during the sentencing.
Her counterpart across the aisle, prosecutor Kent Morgan, jumped to his feet, objecting to the insinuation that the trial was somehow tainted by political agendas.
"That impugns my integrity. I and I alone was responsible for scheduling this trial," he said. "I ask her to apologize."
Wells responded, "I'm entitled to my opinion."