SALT LAKE CITY — A West Valley man was sentenced to prison Tuesday for violently bludgeoning a stranger to death with a hammer, an attack that his attorney said was fueled by undiagnosed mental illness.
For months after his arrest, it was nearly impossible to communicate with Gerardo Enrique Perez, now 20, according to his attorney, Robin Ljungberg. It wasn't until Perez was properly medicated that an explanation began to surface about the fatal attack on Leslie Beus, 68, in January 2015.
"This is how he learned of his illness, and it is absolutely tragic for the victims in this case that it had to come to light this way," Ljungberg said.
It is also a tragedy for Perez and his family, the defense attorney noted.
Beus died of his injuries four weeks after the attack. According to his obituary, Beus was a veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He later worked for Clover Club Foods in Kaysville until he retired in 2006.
According to witnesses, Perez was acting "like a zombie" when he approached Beus outside his home near 5600 West and 4800 South on Jan. 28, 2015, and started bludgeoning him in the head with the hammer and a large knife. When Beus ran for his house, Perez followed, continuing his attack and threatening at least one other person with the weapons.
At the time of his arrest, toxicology showed Perez was not under the influence of any drugs or illegal substances, Ljungberg said, a fact that baffled his attorneys.
"That was, frankly, a mystery," Ljungberg said. "There was no motivation for (the attack) that anyone could ascertain."
It is only recently, as Perez has been medicated, that answers have come, according to his attorney, and with those answers came deep remorse.
Perez was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and it was discovered that at the time of the attack he suffered from powerful delusions that he had been kidnapped by armed criminals who were seeking to take his life. Those delusions continued as he languished in jail in a paranoid state, Ljungberg said.
However, William Dearing, Beus' son, made a brief and impassioned plea to 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy Tuesday, calling Perez a liar and calling for him to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"I don't believe that he's that crazy, because after he hits our dad, he goes down the street and some guy pulls a gun and he says, 'Don't shoot,' then he runs home and washes off the hammer and the knife," Dearing said. "That's not a crazy guy, that's a guy who knew he committed a crime."
Dearing said he has been researching schizophrenia, and he doesn't believe that Perez's mental illness could simply come and go, day by day.
"You don't go in and out of craziness," Dearing said. "Tons of people have schizophrenia, this guy is an evil man."
Perez pleaded guilty in October to murder, a first-degree felony, as well as aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony, and aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.
Calling Beus' death an "irreplaceable loss," and because of uncertainty about whether Perez's dangerous delusions could persist in the future, Skanchy ordered that a prison sentence of 15 years to life for murder be run consecutively to sentences for the burglary and aggravated assault charges. For those charges, Perez was ordered to serve concurrent terms of five years to life and zero to five years, respectively.
Perez was originally charged with aggravated murder. Additional charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal, including obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony; two more counts of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony; and interfering with an arresting officer, a class B misdemeanor.