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Inmate denies trying to kill fetus, but officer doesn't buy story

GUNNISON — He pleaded guilty to trying to kill her unborn child for $150, but a Vernal man now says he didn't know that the teenage girl who paid him to beat her was pregnant.

"She just looked heavyset to me," Arron Nathanael Harrison said Tuesday during his first parole hearing at the Central Utah Correctional Facility.

"That night, I was drinking and was intoxicated," he added. "I don't know exactly how the confrontation started."

Harrison, 23, is serving prison time for convictions on a litany of charges ranging from unlawful sexual activity with a minor to burglary. However, it was Harrison's conviction for attempted killing of an unborn child, a third-degree felony, that drew the greatest scrutiny from hearing officer Kim Allen.

On May 20, 2009, Harrison encountered a distraught 17-year-old girl as he walked down the street. The pair struck up a conversation, the girl later told police, and she asked Harrison to help her end her pregnancy, promising to pay him $150 in return.

The girl said she and Harrison went to a home where she lay down on a bed and covered her face with a pillow while he punched her five times in the abdomen. Harrison also bit the teen on the neck and slapped her in the face, said the girl, who was charged in juvenile court with criminal solicitation to commit murder.

That case was dismissed after a judge ruled the Utah code that defines abortion is "unambiguous" when it states, "A woman who is seeking to have or obtains an abortion for herself is not criminally liable." The teen gave birth to a healthy baby, who was permanently removed from her custody by the state.

Harrison said Tuesday he had no idea the girl was pregnant and disputed that she'd ever been in his bedroom. Instead, he said, the pair was sitting in the front yard of the home where he lived, having a debate about abortion, when he became enraged.

"I don't know exactly why I struck her," Harrison told Allen. "I hit her one time in the stomach and I told her to get off the property. All I know is she left and the next morning I was confronted by the police."

Later in the hearing, Harrison admitted that he also bit the teen but continued to deny punching her more than once, knowing she was pregnant or accepting money in exchange for attacking her.

His denials drew an incredulous response from Allen.

"So you find a heavyset pregnant girl — you didn't notice she was pregnant — and you don't know why you hit her in the stomach, and you don't know why you bit her on the neck?" the hearing officer asked rhetorically.

Allen told Harrison that given what he believed was his failure to accept full responsibility for his attack on the teen, and the fact that he's twice been convicted of having sex with an underage girl, he should expect to spend "some serious time" in prison.

"I don't buy your story on the attempted killing of a baby and I'm sure the board's not (going to), either," Allen said, adding that he will recommend Harrison serve another 10 years in prison before his next parole hearing.

"I don't know what the board's going to do," Allen said. "They may want to go a totally different direction."

The board is expected to announce its decision in about a month. If required to serve his entire sentence, Harrison will remain in prison until May 2030.

e-mail: geoff@ubstandard.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik