SALT LAKE CITY — A man who broke into a West Valley home and pulled a nearly 100-year-old grandmother from her bed last year was ordered to prison Tuesday, a sentence his victim hopes will not prevent him from living a meaningful life.
"Well, he needs to be in prison for a little while, I guess, because he made too many mistakes," Wasden told the Deseret News Tuesday. "But I don't want him to be there for a long time and not have any life."
Wasden noted Velasquez, 82 years her junior, has supportive family members who have attended his court dates. She hopes he can someday return to school if he needs to.
"I don't worry about it," she said of the 2018 ordeal police described as a hostage situation. "I've just kind of shut the door on it."
Velasquez fired a round into the Wasden's back patio door to gain entry to her home early on Feb. 23, 2018, police said. He was wanted on warrants when officers spotted him outside a West Valley hotel. He took off running with a gun.
Wasden, who was days away from her 100th birthday, was not afraid when Velasquez grabbed her arms and demanded her car keys as police closed in on her home, she testified last year.
She was too old to drive, she recalled telling him. He paced around the home for several hours, carrying her walker away before returning it. He spent some time petting her Shih Tzu, Romeo. She told him he could rest on the couch, but resisted when he urged her to leave, pointing out she was already home.
Eventually, Velasquez handed her a phone with a police officer on the other end and met officers at her door. Velasquez managed to find car keys, and when he tried to drive away, SWAT officers swarmed.
Michael Peterson, Velasquez's attorney, said at that point his client had not slept for up to two weeks because of the amount of meth he was using. Velasquez had turned to street drugs to cope with bipolar and attention deficit disorders, Peterson said, and had been hallucinating.
When police spotted Velasquez that day, he panicked and made "one of the most monumentally stupid decisions he could make," Peterson told a judge.
Already in prison for attacking another inmate at an Ogden youth detention center and walking away from a jail work crew, Velasquez could be paroled as soon as December 2021, Peterson said.
He argued for probation that Velasquez could serve upon his release, instead of more time in prison.
Velasquez, shackled and in a white prison uniform, apologized to Wasden and her family.
"Just over one night, it changed a lot of people's lives, especially mine, since I'm young and I'm facing all this time," he said. In letters to the judge, his mother wrote he has a good heart and his older brother described him as an animal lover who fixes cars for people.
The state argued for prison time, homing in on the danger he posed to Wasden's family and the public.
The round Velasquez fired into the home could have hit Wasden's granddaughter, who was just inside, said prosecutor Blithe Cravens. What's more, she added, "the stress from that could have easily killed the average 99-year-old person."
After his arrest at Wasden's house, police found a bulletproof vest and a handgun in the car, Cravens said. "That does not show someone just making slightly bad decisions because of a lack of medication."
Velasquez originally faced 11 criminal charges. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in March to aggravated burglary, a first-degree felony; discharge of a firearm and aggravated assault, both third-degree felonies; and failing to stop at the command of police, a class A misdemeanor.
In exchange, remaining charges were dismissed, including aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and threat of terrorism, a second-degree felony.
Wasden's granddaughter, Cindee Montoya, and her husband, James Gabbard, were both in the home at the time Velasquez entered but later were pulled away by police when they left for help. The pair argued against more prison time for Velasquez.
"We think it was a dumb decision by a kid that was scared," Gabbard said.
"I don't think a hardened criminal would help my grandmother get dressed and put a sweater on," Montoya added.
Third District Judge Amber Mettler said as she listened to the varied arguments, "all I could think is that all of these things, even though they seem to disagree in some respects, are all abundantly clear at the same time." Though likely a dumb mistake, Velasquez's behavior was serious and his criminal history has escalated, she added. "It's a miracle that someone wasn't killed."
Mettler sentenced Velasquez to five years to life for aggravated burglary and up to five years for his remaining felony convictions. She also ordered a roughly one-year sentence for the misdemeanor, with credit for time he has served.
Mettler allowed the sentences to run concurrently, or at the same time, and alongside his current prison term.