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'I pray for you,' Utah woman tells teen who attacked her in church

Police have found several caltrops — small, spiky weapons made of nails — scattered outside the Salt Lake County Jail, the sheriff's office said.
A Utah teenager has admitted to choking a 71-year-old organist to unconsciousness at a Centerville church in December. He could remain in a secure juvenile detention facility until he is 21.
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FARMINGTON — In the eight months since he choked her to unconsciousness while she practiced the organ at her church, Margaret Orlando says she has prayed for her attacker.

She did so even before police identified him as a 17-year-old Centerville boy.

"I just want you to know that from the beginning, my hope has been that you will receive the help that you need. I am fine," Orlando, 72, told the teenager this week in Farmington's juvenile court.

"I will be on your side going forward and hoping that your life will be good."

The night he broke into the church and assaulted Orlando, the teenager had been arguing with his parents, he told a judge earlier this week. He left their house and ventured out on the cold November night when a chill set in.

"I went to a place where I felt like I would be safe and warm," he recalled, according to audio recording of the hearing. "I didn't know anyone else was in there."

"I wasn't thinking very clearly, and I assaulted the victim and I was scared and I didn't know what to do," he continued.

The teenager also apologized to Orlando. "I hope that one day I can make it right."

The boy pleaded guilty to each criminal charge he faced, including aggravated burglary. The resolution brought a close to the case that relied on a genealogy database and the teen's school lunch to help police draw a DNA link to drops of his blood found at the church. Officers said the boy cut himself as he broke in through a window.

In exchange for his pleas, the state agreed to drop an effort to transfer his case to the adult system. The judge granted a joint request from the prosecution and the defense to place him in a high-security youth detention center, where he could stay until age 21, depending on his progress.

The Deseret News has chosen not to name him at this time.

"Generally, when I hear from victims, it's, 'Throw the book at them,'" 2nd District Juvenile Judge Robert Neill said. "It's very unusual that victims are so gracious and forgiving."

The teen's defense attorney, Joseph Jardine, said his client hadn't planned to injure anyone that night. He called his client "a fine young man" with a bright future and said the resolution in the juvenile system spares the teen a "societal brand for the rest of his life."

The teenager also admitted to a new allegation that he picked up his Sunday School teacher's phone at church a year earlier and took pictures of his genitals that she later discovered.

"I don't know what my intent was," he said.

His teacher who later found the images on her phone said they were "sick, wrong and horrific. He truly needs help."

"You seem to be the all-American boy and it's hard to believe that one of our own neighbors, and a boy I occasionally taught in Sunday School, would do this," she told the teen.

Police told her last year the case would be closed due to lack of evidence, but in June they reported that had changed, in part because a friend of the boy disclosed what he had done.

She said she believes a higher power knew he needed to be discovered "before you were beyond help and committed more serious crimes."

At an earlier hearing, the organist testified that about 9 p.m. on Nov. 17, a Saturday, she was rehearsing for the next morning's services. She heard tapping and then harder knocking on the door, but ignored the noise and continued playing in the meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 270 N. 300 East in Centerville.

Moments later, she felt an arm wrap around her neck and drag her backward, toppling her bench as she dipped in and out of consciousness. She couldn't see the person who left her with bruising and red marks on her face before he fled and she called her bishop, who lives across the street.

"I appreciate the courage that it is taken to admit this," Orlando told the teen. "I pray for you. I hope for you."

He pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony; aggravated assault, a second degree felony; and criminal mischief, a class B misdemeanor, and the additional count of lewdness, a class B misdemeanor.

Since his arrest in April, the teen's parents have visited him almost every day in a youth detention facility and believe he has already grown from the lessons he has learned.

The stressors in his life "were 100 percent out of his control," his father said. "We were victimized horribly, and let down by many people that should have helped us. And we moved to get away from it. And it just followed and it wouldn't stop."

In the midst of that, his parents learned the teenager has developmental delays, a diagnosis the teen and his family are working to improve.

Neill said he believes the boy is sincere.

As he reflected on significant public attention to the case, the judge said he has come to believe it stems from "the facts and how scary it is when an individual feels like they're safe and secure in a church, and then something like this would happen. So it definitely would be frightening for anybody to think there's nowhere that they can be safe."