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No hearing for Hacking until 2035

Board tries to clarify Utah ‘indeterminate’ sentencing

SHARE No hearing for Hacking until 2035
Mark Hacking

Mark Hacking

Mark Hacking will spend at least 30 years in prison for the murder of his wife before the state parole board even considers a possible release date for the 29-year-old man.

"This is just a hearing," said Mike Sibbett, chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. "There is no guarantee that he will ever receive a release date."

Mark Hacking pleaded guilty to shooting his wife, Lori Kay Soares Hacking, in their Salt Lake apartment on July 18 and disposing of her body in a Dumpster at the University of Utah.

News of the 2035 initial hearing date came as members of the Utah Sentencing Commission seek to stem public outcry that arose from Hacking's original sentence of six years to life, which many perceived as too lenient given the circumstances of the case.

The commission is considering a recommendation to lawmakers that would increase the sentence for first-degree felony murder to 15 years to life in prison, rather than the five-to-life term now mandated by statute. Hacking received an additional year for using a violent weapon in the commission of his crime.

On Wednesday, Lori's father, Eraldo Soares, said his "prayers had been answered" now that Hacking will spend at least the next three decades in prison.

"It makes me feel very good," he said. "When I got the message (about his parole hearing) I was so happy he's getting that. I told all my neighbors. I had to share my joy. He's going to pay for what he did."

Soares said he cried tears of joy when he heard the news. He said he wasn't looking forward to the possibility of attending parole hearings every few years and "have to listen to that garbage that Mark always comes up with."

Lori's brother, Paul Soares, echoed those sentiments, saying it was more than what he expected.

"From everything I'd heard, I thought it would be a lot less. I'm ecstatic the board has done this," he said.

Soares said he was also happy the board made its decision so quickly. He said the timing of the announcement will help ease some of the upcoming unpleasant anniversaries.

It was a year ago during the Fourth of July holiday that Soares saw his sister alive for the last time. With the anniversary of her disappearance and murder around the corner, Soares said it's nice to know that the family will soon be able to move on with their lives without having to worry about Mark.

"We know what's going to happen. We know he'll be in prison for 30 years. It's a good thought," he said.

The parole board, as a matter of course, schedules an initial hearing date for inmates convicted of first-degree murder within six months of sentencing. Most will receive their hearing date anywhere between 18 and 35 years from the time of sentence, Sibbett said.

In Hacking's case, the aggravating factors — that he killed his own wife and then obstructed justice by portraying it as a missing person case and disposing of her body — warrant a later hearing date, Sibbett said.

"All of those push it to the higher level," he said.

Workers spent 33 days combing the county landfill for the body of the 27-year-old woman, who was reportedly five weeks pregnant with the couple's child.

On Wednesday, Paul Boyden, executive director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, urged the Sentencing Commission to support a measure that would raise the minimum term in first-degree murder cases.

"I really feel that we have a public perception problem here that is very serious," he said. "I think just floating that number out there, that six years, is having a terrible detriment to us."

People who don't understand Utah's indeterminate sentencing structure and the role of the parole board in deciding an offender's release date, simply hear the low end of the sentence and believe that's how much time a person will serve, Boyden said.

"The need for a public perception of justice, as well as justice itself, is important," he said.

Commission member Sy Snarr agreed. "Six years is not enough, and that is the number that sticks in your head. I was shocked that the minimum was six years. I thought it was appalling."

Eraldo Soares has moved his family to Salt Lake City where he plans to become an outspoken proponent of raising the minimum sentencing statute for murder. He said he planned on speaking at many events to raise community awareness and encourage residents to call their lawmakers to pass a tougher sentencing guideline.

"Five years is an insult. It's not acceptable," he said. "Maybe the Marks of the world will think twice about killing their wives (with a tougher penalty). My goal is to keep them off the streets. If we can save just one Lori, it will be a success."

Soares said he would like to see the minimum sentence for murder be 30 years to life and plans to be vocal about his proposal.

"Fifteen (years), I'll take it. But I wish it could be higher," he said.

In reality, murderers in Utah serve well over the minimum time called for by law, according to numbers compiled by the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Of the 210 inmates convicted of first-degree murder now at the Utah State Prison, 98 will wait 18 years before their initial hearing and 49 have parole dates that have them serving an average 20 years before their release. Another 54 were denied parole dates at their original hearing and will serve another 22 years before they receive rehearing. The board has recommended that nine never be paroled.

"It is a great anomaly if you see someone getting out short of 15 years," Sibbett said.

Still, commission members worry that the public is not getting that message. Which is why many believe a change to the law may be necessary.

"It just gives the public a feeling that we are more responsible in putting people away," said Heber City Police Chief Ed Rhoades.

Some members expressed concerns, however, that raising the minimum sentence in first-degree murder cases may tie the hands of the parole board in those extraordinary cases that may call for a lesser sentence.

"The board needs the flexibility in that exceptional case or the anomaly to grant relief," said F. John Hill, director of the Salt Lake Legal Defenders' Association.

The parole board would retain its commutation powers, Sibbett said, which would leave a door open for action in such cases.

The proposed recommendation would not impact the aggravated murder statute, which has three sentencing options: the death penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole or 20 years to life in prison.

The Sentencing Commission will vote on the proposed measure at its next meeting on Sept. 7.

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com; preavy@desnews.com