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Utah father says he long ago forgave son who tried to kill him for college money

Lehi man serving time for attempted murder seeks parole

20150226 A watchtower is seen at the Wasatch facility during a media tour Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, at the Utah State Prison in Draper. Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he’s opposed to the idea of allowing a state commission to pick a location to build a new prison instead of leaving the decision with the Legislature.
A watchtower at the Utah State Prison in Draper.
AP

UTAH STATE PRISON — Four years ago, Erik Dair Harding, of Lehi, planted a pipe bomb in his father's SUV with the hope of killing him so he could collect financial aid and go to the college he wanted to, according to police.

The father, however, survived, and Harding was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison.

But Weston Harding had only empathy and forgiveness for his son during his first parole hearing.

“He was forgiven from the very moment. My greatest interest is in his well-being and his progression,” Harding told the parole board.

On Aug. 10, 2016, the air bags in Weston Harding’s SUV went off without any explanation. Investigators soon discovered the remnants of a pipe bomb under the driver's seat, according to a police affidavit.

When asked who might have a grudge against him, Harding told police his youngest son had recently expressed he was upset for “raising him in a church that wasn’t true,” and that his son had been “reclusive,” spending all his free time on his computer where he was “passionately working” toward getting accepted into a college in the Midwest, according to the affidavit.

But police say Erik Harding was also upset with his parents because they couldn’t afford that school.

The pipe bomb destroyed the SUV and injured Weston Harding, according to charging documents. His injuries were not life-threatening. The failed murder attempt prompted Erik Harding to build a second pipe bomb, which he detonated on Aug. 15, 2016, in an unsuccessful effort to take his own life, the charges state.

On Aug. 26, 2016, police interviewed Erik Harding who admitted he had looked up instructions on how to build a pipe bomb on the internet. Then, “after realizing that he wouldn't have the money that he desperately needed” to attend the college he wanted, he built a pipe bomb that he put under his dad’s car seat “hoping to kill his dad so that he could claim zero income on his federal financial aid application,” the charges state.

A year later, Harding was convicted of attempted murder, a first-degree felony, and attempted recklessness of an incendiary device, a second-degree felony. He was ordered to serve at least three years and up to life in prison.

On Sept. 1, Erik Harding, now 22, appeared before a member of the parole board for the first time. Despite the seriousness of the crime, his family wrote letters to the board and showed up at the hearing to show their support for him.

“The greatest impact (over the past four years) has been that of a broken heart of a father. And not for my sake, but to see the poor choice my son had made and the consequences that he would have to live with in going through this,” Weston Harding said in a recording of the hearing.

Harding said he “absolutely” loves his son and has “totally” forgiven him and that his greatest concern now is for his son’s well-being.

Since being sent to prison, Harding said he has visited and called his son regularly.

“I’ve seen him change tremendously,” he said, noting he has enjoyed seeing his son’s progression. “He definitely wants to pick up his life and move forward. He now has hopes for the future and desires to make a positive influence.”

Harding said his son shows concern for others and now asks about other people first, whereas before he would talk only about himself.

Erik Harding, who didn't say a lot during the hearing, agreed that before he only thought about himself.

“It was a really bad thinking, being self-centered and not caring about other people. I’d focus on myself even at the expense of other people,” he said.

But since being incarcerated, Harding said he’s learned that if you’re not caring about others, you’re not being “your best person.”

“Everyone in this world is in it together, especially the way we’ve seen with this pandemic. People have to work together to keep everyone safe, to keep everyone moving forward. No one can really go about it alone,” he said.

Harding said he has learned that if people don’t have a support network and try to stand on their own, they won’t get far.

Weston Harding said he would like to see his son come home and continue to progress outside of a prison setting.

The full five-member Board of Pardons and Parole will now vote on whether to grant parole.