About a month after completing seventh grade, Keith Shepherd Jr. and his 11-year-old foster brother burglarized the home of an elderly Pleasant Grove woman and terrorized her.
The 81-year-old woman, who lived alone and was suffering from early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, had earlier befriended the two troubled boys. On July 7, 1994, the young boys allegedly took advantage of that friendship and groped the woman.Three days later they broke into her home late at night and allegedly tried to rape her. When she resisted, Shepherd allegedly choked her. Eventually, the boys became scared, stole some items and fled.
Shepherd, who just turned 17, pleaded guilty Wednesday in 4th District Court to burglary and aggravated assault, second-degree felonies. He was originally charged with aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony, and attempted rape, a second-degree felony.
The younger boy, after spending a short time in a detention center, was returned to his foster family. He was in court Wednesday, prepared to testify against his former foster brother.
It took Utah County prosecutors two years to resolve Shepherd's case. He spent more than a year at the Utah State Hospital after a Juvenile Court judge ruled him incompetent. When he became competent, the judge certified him to stand trial as an adult.
He again underwent competency evaluations in adult court. While doctors said Shepherd has some diminished mental capacity, he was ruled competent to stand trial.
Judge Lynn W. Davis sent Shepherd on Wednesday to the Utah State Prison for a diagnostic evaluation to determine where the young criminal belongs. Shepherd will be formally sentenced in January.
While expressing compassion for the victim, Shepherd's family says the teen is also a victim. Family members believe he is mentally ill and attribute his violent personality to the abuse he was exposed to as a young child. For almost eight years he was physically and mentally abused by his mother's live-in boyfriend.
"When he wasn't the one getting beat, he was always there watching when I was getting beat," said his mother, Corrina Lowe.
Shepherd was placed into foster care at the age of 13 when he became violent and abusive with his siblings. Family members say that if he doesn't get help, they believe he'll kill someday.
In fact, he told his family that he thought he killed the elderly woman. Just after his arrest he told police that he was planning to rape and kill a 16-year-old girl living down the street. He also confessed to planning to murder his mother and stepfather.
"He's got a lot of anger in him," said his grandmother, Angela Shepherd.
Shepherd will definitely test the rehabilitative ability of the correctional system. His family wants society protected and the young teen punished but also wants him to get therapy.
"I don't think he'll get the help he needs in prison," Lowe said. "I really believe that if he goes to prison he'll just come out worse and not better."
"There is hope for Keith if he gets help, but if he doesn't get help there is no hope for him," his grandmother said.
If the Shepherd name sounds familiar in Utah's crime circle, it should. His father, Keith Shepherd Sr., is serving time for robbery and aggravated sexual assault. He made headlines in 1993 when he jumped a fence at the Utah State Prison and eluded law enforcement officers for about four months. He was eventually captured in Nevada, but not before surviving on the run by committing several robberies and burglaries in seven western states.
But the younger Shepherd has never known his father. His mother was pregnant with him when the older Shepherd began his prison term.