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Utah man gets 16 years to life in prison for killing woman and her 3-year-old son

Christopher Poulson pleaded guilty last month to murder, a first-degree felony, and manslaughter, a second-degree felony.

FILE - Maria Almiron, grandmother of 3-year-old Gabriel Almiron, left, and Brenda Marsh, mother of Emily Almiron, Gabriel’s mother, embrace after speaking at a press conference at Orem City Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

PROVO — Emily Quijano, a bubbly and bright young mother, was preparing to graduate from massage school and fulfill a lifelong dream of moving to California four years ago.

She would bring along her 3-year-old son Gabriel Almiron, who loved dinosaurs and was starting to show glimmers of his own developing personality.

Poster-sized pictures of a beaming Quijano holding a white flower, and her son grinning in a backwards baseball cap, were on display in a Provo courtroom Thursday. Their family members directed emotions ranging from rage and deep sadness to calm forgiveness toward Quijano’s ex-boyfriend, Christopher Poulson, who admitted last month to killing the 23-year-old mother and son at their Orem home.

Sometimes through tears, they agreed on one thing: The pair’s lives were cut short just as they were entering a new chapter.

“We can’t ever know what she might have achieved,” Iris Riggs, a family friend, said of Quijano.

Following the statements, 4th District Judge Robert Lunnen sentenced Poulson to at least 16 years and up to life in prison.

Poulson pleaded guilty last month to murder, a first-degree felony, and manslaughter, a second-degree felony. Poulson admitted he fatally injured the boy on Sept. 8, 2015, and then panicked and shot Almiron as she slept and before she could discover what had happened.

He agreed to help investigators find the bodies of the mother and child, part of his agreement with prosecutors that allowed him to seek a prison term of no more than 30 years. But Lunnen rejected that part of the deal earlier this month, saying it was difficult for him “to accept a 30-year limit on two very important lives.”

On Sept. 6, a volunteer searcher found the bodies in a shallow grave near Eureka in Juab County. The crew member spotted a tree he believed matched one described by Poulson and found the remains just below the surface, prosecutors said.

Quijano, a fan of Aretha Franklin, serenaded her tight-knit family with a singing voice from a young age, her family recalled Thursday.

Emily Quijano’s father, Jesse Quijano, a professional musician of more than 50 years, said he and his daughter had planned to record together once she arrived in California.

“I no longer have the desire to play music,” he said, describing the years since Quijano’s disappearance as a “mental prison.”

Her mother Brenda Marsh said she has forgiven her daughter’s killer. Marsh finds comfort in her faith and in a quilt that Poulson’s mother made for her, and has come to love the prosecutors who would visit her hours into the night, she said.

Emily Quijano Almiron
Emily Quijano Almiron
Orem Police Department
Gabriel Almiron
Gabriel Almiron
Orem Police Department

“It is right that Emma and Gabe’s bodies have been recovered and will be home soon, and this has brought me overwhelming happiness and gratitude,” she said, using the affectionate nickname she had for her daughter.

Her family members alternately cried and laughed in the packed courtroom gallery as a slideshow she put together cycled through sometimes silly pictures of the pair.

Poulson’s father Richard Poulson said Marsh’s forgiveness “has made these proceedings much easier to bear for both families.”

His son, of Smithfield, Cache County, admitted he had been using methamphetamine and drinking alcohol when he babysat Gabriel, and somehow injured the boy. He put the child to bed and later checked on him to find he had died. He lost his nerve to tell Quijano and instead shot her with a handgun while she slept.

“He’s a different person when he’s not on drugs,” Richard Poulson said, noting his son had given the defense information that ultimately led to the discovery of the remains.

A shackled Poulson, in glasses and a red jail uniform, read from a statement, apologizing to Quijano’s family and his own.

“I take full responsibility for what I’ve done,” he said. “I feel terrible for what’s happened.”

But prosecutor Lance Bastian said Poulson has been less than forthcoming. On a car ride to find his victims’ remains in the central Utah desert, Poulson recounted to Bastian in vivid detail the events before and after the toddler’s death, but couldn’t recall how exactly he’d injured the boy, Bastian said.

Poulson said he blacked out. When he came to, he realized the child was bruised all over his body — injuries that didn’t square with his prior claim of pushing the boy and watching him hit the floor, Bastian said.

“The only regret I feel like I have seen is for himself and the potential consequences he faces,” Bastian said. He called Poulson “cold-blooded.”

Sobs could heard in the courtroom as Bastian detailed how Poulson wrapped a towel around the gun to muffle a blast, held it to Quijano’s head and pulled the trigger, then disposed of the bodies in the desert.

Bastian had thought the pair might be placed gently in the shallow grave, but said crews found “they were dumped. they were crammed into that hole,” along with a cigarette butt.

The judge sentenced Poulson to consecutive sentences of at least 15 years and up to life for the charge of murder, and one to 15 years on the second degree manslaughter charge.