For fatally shooting Douglas Koehler in the head last year, David Nelson Thacker could have been sentenced to one to 15 years in prison.
But that's "too high a penalty," according to 3rd District Judge David Young.The judge on Monday reduced the penalty to zero to five years and also imposed a one-year firearms enhancement.
The killing has been termed a hate crime, and the sentence brought cries of protest from the Utah's gay community. (See related story on this page.)
Thacker, 26, shot Koehler nearly a year ago in a ParkWest parking lot following an evening of sex, cocaine and alcohol. Koehler's hands were still in his pockets when he fell to the ground dead.
Charged with first-degree felony murder, Thacker pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony. Young sentenced the Nevada man Monday as if the charge were a third-degree felony.
Summit County Attorney Robert Adkins argued that anything less than a one-to-15-year sentence would be inadequate for this killing, which some have termed a hate crime. But Young said that penalty would be too stiff.
"I honestly believe in my own mind that Mr. Thacker is not likely to reoffend," the judge said, adding that this sentence was one of the most difficult of his 71/2-year career.
Young also said that if he was still a member of the Board of Pardons faced with the decision of whom to release, "I'd probably start with the manslaughterers and the homicides." Except for serial killers, such criminals are usually the least likely to commit their crimes again, he said.
Young said his sentence was not meant to diminish the value of Koehler's life, but family members were upset at his decision.
"I think when you murder someone you should spend your life paying for that murder," said Susan Nelson, Koehler's sister.
"I was really shocked the sentence was reduced," added Christine Williams, another sister.
Thacker and Clint Crane met Koehler, 31, at a ParkWest bar on Aug. 22, and the trio drank alcohol and used cocaine that evening. Thacker accompanied them back to their Park City apartment, and Thacker and Koehler went into a bedroom together.
Thacker said he fell asleep and woke up to find Koehler performing a sex act on him, but Adkins said there is more to his story. "It certainly seems highly probable there was some consensual sexual activity that took place then."
At some point Thacker kicked Koehler out of his apartment, then took a shower, grabbed a gun and decided to "hunt down" Koehler about 45 minutes later, Adkins said. Koehler had been walking for about four miles when Thacker and Crane met up with him at Park-West.
Thacker called him over to their truck and shot him once in the head.
Adkins said Thacker either intended to kill Koehler or scare him with the gun. "They left with the intent to do some injury to Mr. Koeh-ler," he said.
Thacker underwent a 90-day diagnostic evaluation at the Utah State Prison before Monday's sentencing. "He apparently has the philosophy `don't get mad, get even' and claims to live by that rule," Adkins said.
Thacker also admitted to fantasies about exposing himself to children and may have acted out some sexual activities with a young girl on at least one occasion, the prosecutor said.
Thacker has also used a weapon to scare females into sexual acts, has suggested he has molested women and shows an arousal to suggestions of sex with consenting males, Adkins said.
Defense attorney Ron Yengich said his client has shown remorse for the shooting and said the diagnostic report also shows Thacker has a "less than normal level of intelligence." The high levels of intoxication from the cocaine supplied by Koehler also played a key factor in the shooting, he said.