2nd Utahn reaches plea deal in hate crime attack on Black Latter-day Saint missionary
Sebastian West pleads no contest to hate-crime charge and enters guilty plea in a separate assault case.
PROVO — A second Utah man accused of attacking a Black Latter-day Saint missionary has pleaded no contest to a hate crime charge, part of a plea deal prosecutors offered him in part because jury trials are on pause in the pandemic.
Sebastian West, 19, entered the plea Tuesday in Provo’s 4th District Court to aggravated assault, a third-degree felony. As part of the deal, he also admitted to a more severe assault charge in an unrelated case.
A no contest plea means a defendant isn’t fighting the charge but isn’t admitting guilt, either. When West is sentenced Nov. 17, he’ll face the same penalties as if he pleaded guilty, Johnson said. The charge carries a potential prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.
West and two others attacked the missionary, who is Panamanian, as he tried to call police to report the threats they were making toward a homeowner in Payson on Jan. 28, court documents say.
“The evidence indicates he was the main aggressor in both cases,” Gregory Johnson, deputy Utah County attorney, said of West.
Police said the group threw the missionary’s phone across the street and began punching and kicking him before struggling with him on the ground and breaking his glasses. The men called the missionary the N-word and began punching and kicking him in the head, investigators said, telling him, “This is our town,” and “Go back to slavery,” court documents said.
The missionary was treated at a hospital for cuts and bruising on his face and injuries to one shoulder and ribs, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors extended the offer partly because it’s not certain when jury trials will resume in Utah County amid a widespread COVID-19 outbreak there, Johnson said. But the prosecutor and his colleagues also believe a trial would have yielded a very similar conviction.
“We felt like it was a good resolution given the facts of both cases,” Johnson said. “I believe the message is that hate crimes will not be tolerated in our community.”
Johnson said the young missionary approved the plea deal.
West’s brother Malachi West, of Payson, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault, a class B misdemeanor. A judge sentenced him last month to 60 days in the Utah County Jail and ordered him to write the victim an apology. Another man, Nathan Thomas, of Nephi, returns to court later this month to face a charge of assault, a third-degree felony.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said the church has concerns about what happened and has emphasized it is grateful the missionaries escaped serious harm.
As part of the plea bargain, Sebastian West pleaded guilty in an earlier case to a reduced charge of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony. Police said he and others punched and kicked a man in Payson Canyon on Dec. 16, 2019, knocking several of his teeth loose and dragging him across the street before leaving him to lie there unconscious in 20-degree weather.
Prosecutors said West worked with two others to jump the man, alleging in court documents that the group was upset about a conversation the victim had with a girl.
Johnson filed a motion Monday requesting West pay about $34,600 in restitution in that case, largely to cover the victim’s medical expenses, which they say includes dental implants.
West faces up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine in that case.