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Prosecutors weigh whether to pursue death penalty in child abuse death

FARMINGTON — A Layton man accused of graphic child abuse that killed his girlfriend's baby appeared briefly in court Wednesday as prosecutors weigh whether to seek the death penalty.

Joshua Schoenenberger, 35, is charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, in the May 11, 2015, death of his girlfriend's son, 2-year-old James "JJ" Sieger Jr.

After being ordered to stand trial following a preliminary hearing, Schoenenberger pleaded not guilty to the charge on April 11, starting the 60-day clock for prosecutors to decide whether they will seek the death penalty in the case. Under Utah's "Shelby's Law," capital punishment is a potential sentence in cases where a child's death results from abuse.

JJ was taken off life support two days after being taken to the hospital on May 9, 2015, his body succumbing to extensive injuries including tearing in his colon, damage in his abdomen, deep bruising, head trauma and other injuries.

After a series of changing narratives by himself and JJ's mother, Jasmine Bridgeman, Schoenenberger told police he had lashed out at the boy as he struggled with potty training, violently squeezing, dropping and stepping on the boy, court documents state.

Bridgeman, 24, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice, a second-degree felony, for lying to doctors and police about how her son sustained the injuries that killed him. She was sentenced in April to one to 15 years in prison.

Schoenenberger's attorney, Ed Brass, asked Wednesday for a scheduling hearing later this month in order to take into account the state's decision about the potential death penalty. Schoenenberger will return to court June 27.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero