SALT LAKE CITY — A 15-year-old Utah boy admitted to shooting and killing his stepbrother Wednesday as the mother of the slain teen wept in a Salt Lake City courtroom.
In a measured voice, the teen recalled that he borrowed clothes on March 18 from his stepbrother, 16-year-old Jerrad Jacobsen, who then took a photo of him on Snapchat. A short time later, he returned from the bathroom while Jerrad was editing the photo.
"I guess I wasn't thinking and I grabbed the gun and pointed it at him," the teen recounted. The Deseret News has chosen not to name him at this time.
He replied "yes" when 3rd District Juvenile Judge Susan Eisenman asked if he pulled the trigger, causing Jerrad's death.
"Did you take any steps to see whether it was loaded or unloaded?" she asked.
"No, I didn't," he responded.
When the judge asked if he had been using drugs or alcohol at the time, he said yes, and had gone to his stepbrother's house in part to smoke.
The teen admitted to manslaughter, a second-degree felony, part of a deal with the state that stipulates he will go to the most secure type of juvenile detention facility for a time.
Under 2017 reforms to Utah's juvenile justice system, the most time he could spend there on the conviction is six months, Jerrad's mother, Theresa Toledo, said.
"I don't get how this is an accident, and how it's OK for him to go to secure care for three to six months when he took a life," she told the judge after the teen's admission. Toledo, who cried and held her hands over her face at times during the hearing, said her son was shot in the back of the head.
"If those were the facts, this wouldn't be a manslaughter case," the mother of the 15-year-old said after the hearing, declining to say more.
The boy told police he believed the gun was unloaded, a factor that limited how far prosecutors could go in charging him, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the Deseret News in April. His office felt it could meet its burden of proof for the charge of manslaughter, which can be based on recklessness, but not for a knowing and intentional killing, Gill said.
In exchange for the teen's guilty pleas, two remaining charges of obstructing justice and damaging a jail, both third-degree felonies, were dismissed.
Police were called to 5007 W. 5400 South in Kearns on March 18 to find Jerrad dead in a bedroom with what investigators initially believed was a self-inflicted shotgun blast. The 15-year-old said the two were hanging out in Jerrad's bedroom and believed the gun was unloaded, prosecutorssaid.
When detectives interviewed the teen after Jerrad's death, he told them that he had turned away from and could not see what Jerrad was doing went the gun went off, the charges state. An autopsy later revealed that the wound on the top left side of Jerrad's head, previously thought to be an exit wound, appeared to be an entrance wound and the teen may have been shot at a downward angle.
Outside the courtroom on Wednesday, Toledo said she will urge Utah lawmakers to allow for longer sentences when a child or teen takes a life, even though future possible changes to the law would not affect the case.
The teen is set to be sentenced July 18.
The resolution follows the May 7 sentencing for a West Valley teenager accused of shooting and killing another boy, 15-year-old Marquez Grajeda, at a home while on a lunch break. That teenager told police he thought the gun's safety was on, court documents say. He has also been ordered to secure care, though court filings do not indicate how long he will remain there.