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Arizona man sent to prison in 2016 killing of youth ranch counselor

James "Jimmy" Woolsey
James "Jimmy" Woolsey

SALT LAKE CITY — An Arizona man has been ordered to serve at least five years and up to life in prison for beating to death a counselor at a Utah rehabilitative youth ranch when he was 17 and battling drug addiction.

In Utah's 6th District Court in Panguitch on Thursday, the now 19-year-old Clay Brewer apologized to those he has hurt and those he left without a father and husband.

"He just apologized to the victims, and said, 'If I could give you anything, I would, and all I can do is try to be a good person while I'm in prison,'" prosecutor Barry Huntington said after the hearing. "This was the best result."

In December 2016, five days after he arrived at Turn-About Ranch in Garfield County, Brewer killed James "Jimmy" Woolsey, 61, with a metal fire poker as he tried to escape the facility. He injured another staff member, Alicia Keller, when he struck her in the head before stealing her car and leading deputies on a brief chase, later telling investigators he had intended to act like he had a gun so officers would shoot him and he could die.

Brewer told police after his arrest that he was coming off an addiction to pills while at the camp, and that he had tried to kill himself there by drinking bleach. He said his path to drug abuse began when his parents divorced.

Brewer admitted in July to reduced charges of murder, a first-degree felony, and aggravated assault, a second-degree felony, as part of a plea bargain with Huntington.

His defense attorney, Ron Yengich, said Brewer's case is a single example of a much larger problem.

"The reality is that he's like so many other kids out there, and adults. They get involved with opioids and don't realize the impact it has on their lives, and it takes over their lives, and changes them into people they would never have been," Yengich said. "He's an object lesson for the extremes that can come from drug abuse."

Yengich called his client "a good kid." Several of Brewer's friends and family members echoed that sentiment in letters to submitted to the judge prior to sentencing.

Sixth District Judge Wallace Lee ordered Brewer to serve at least five years and up to life on the murder conviction, and at least one and up to 15 years for the assault. Lee allowed the sentences to run concurrently.