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Victim loved helping troubled teens

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FARMINGTON — Raechale Elton, stabbed to death this week at a Clearfield home for troubled teenagers, wanted to work with the teens because she loved them, her grandmother says.

Her voice shaking with emotion, Beverly Elton sobbed Friday as she described her 22-year-old granddaughter.

"She was lovable, a real caring person. She was a hard worker and had a desire to make something of her life," Beverly Elton said. "She was attending Weber State (University), and she was ready to graduate at the end of the year in criminal justice. That's why she was working where she was, taking care" of the young offenders.

Robert Cameron Houston, 17, who had received counseling for sex offenses, was charged Friday in 2nd District Court with aggravated murder, aggravated sexual assault and rape in Raechale Elton's death. She was stabbed to death late Wednesday inside an independent living residence operated by Youth Health Associates, where she worked.

Davis County prosecutors filed adult charges against the youth. The teenager would not be eligible for the death penalty because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forbids the execution of minors. Still, the Davis County Attorney's Office said it would push for life in prison without parole if Houston is convicted.

"It's so devastating to have her life taken so violently," the victim's grandmother said. "She had so much potential, so much to give."

At WSU in Ogden, where Raechale Elton was a senior, her professors and fellow students were in tears upon hearing of the slaying.

"There's a hole in the world today because she's gone," said Paul H. Johnson, an associate professor of criminal justice.

Clearfield police said Houston confessed to the crime, telling them he thought Elton was "cute and he was infatuated with her."

Raechale Elton took a job at the Clearfield group home operated by Youth Health Associates about six months ago.

YHA officials said that on Wednesday Elton gave Houston a ride from the YHA Clearfield group home to an independent living home at 396 Marilyn Drive, just a few blocks away. The attack occurred at that address.

A staff member who was supposed to be supervising Houston was caught in traffic because of the storm Wednesday night and so was not at the center.

Davis County Chief Deputy Attorney Bill McGuire told the Deseret Morning News that Houston used a knife to force Elton to have sexual intercourse with him, then stabbed her multiple times. Houston then took her car and apparently tried to kill himself by driving into a nearby house, McGuire said.

Doug Mahlstede, whose home was damaged when the car slammed into it, said, "He tried to take the knife out and said, 'You should stab me, kill me now.' I told him to keep it in his pocket." The teen was treated at Davis Hospital for internal injuries suffered in the crash. He was released from the hospital and booked into the Davis County Jail Friday.

Beverly Elton said her granddaughter enjoyed her work at YHA.

"She really had a love for those kids there. She wanted to help them in their lives. She wouldn't have done anything that would have made them angry, I'm sure," Elton said. "I didn't realize it was the kind of facility it was. She didn't have any protection, I guess. There just was no one there when she took the fellow home."

Houston is scheduled to make his first appearance before a judge in Farmington's 2nd District Court on Tuesday. That same day, Raechale Elton's family will hold her funeral in Tooele.

McGuire explained the adult charges against Houston: "I think the particular crime, how it came about, what happened during the crime, plus the background of the juvenile, makes it such that we would seek that kind of resolution (lifetime incarceration). I think that's appropriate."

Houston has been in state custody since 2004. He told Mahlstede that he had recently been released from a "rapist recovery center" after fooling people into thinking he had been successfully treated.

Elton's family was outraged.

"I'd certainly like to see him prosecuted for those evil, terrible things that he's done," said Beverly Elton. "I know he's sick, but I just don't understand how he could be released to be out and basically be on his own in society. I guess he just manipulated them to think he was OK and that he was doing well."

At Weber State, Johnson said he had mentored Raechale and she was supposed to be in his senior seminar class this fall. "She had an altruistic nature and was very savvy, a very smart woman. She's the kind of person that keeps professors in the business."

YHA officials said that Elton had been trained and certified according to state regulations. The Utah Department of Human Services' Office of Licensing has launched an investigation into the incident.

Johnson said his student was not naive about the dangers of working in group homes for troubled teens. In fact, he said, she had chosen youth counseling as a career after college.

"She was very realistic about the problems," he said. "In criminal justice we have these unexpected dangers that lurk, and that's what happened with her."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com