At age 35, Johnny Angelo Perez has nearly served the minimum of his 20-years-to-life prison sentence. And now, he's asking the Utah Board of Pardons for a second chance at life on the outside.
But Perez likely won't be getting such a chance soon, especially if he continues using heroin while in prison, said Mike Sibbett, parole board chairman."It's hard to forget that you were using drugs and high when you committed your crime 20 years ago," Sibbett said Tuesday.
In 1976, Perez was using speed and cocaine when he entered the Ben Lomond Hotel and began prying the cash register open with a knife.
When Henry Topping Jr. confronted the then-15-year-old Perez, the boy killed the hotel clerk by stabbing him 44 times.
Later that night, Perez's friends became suspicious when he tried to use bloodied money during a poker game.
Perez was tried as an adult in Topping's death and became one of the youngest ever to serve time in a Utah prison, Sibbett said.
But Perez says he has learned his lesson and now knows right from wrong.
While in prison, Perez graduated from high school and received an associate's degree from Salt Lake Community College. But he also started using heroin - a move he partly attributes to his fear of freedom.
"I'm not blaming anybody but myself (for drug use). I do tend to fall off, but I pick my self back up," he said. "It's a way of sabotaging myself. It's very frightening. I've been out of touch for 20 years."
Sibbett was somewhat sympathetic with Perez.
"I've spent agonizing, sleepless nights thinking about a young man that learned about life in prison," Sibbett said. "You hadn't begun to live."
But aside from the drug use, an independent psychological evaluation indicates Perez shows patterns of anti-social behavior.
Patsy Andersen, Topping's daughter, did not speak at Perez's hearing Tuesday. Afterward, she said while the family is starting to forgive Perez, they believe he belongs behind bars.
The board will decide Perez's fate in the next few weeks.