UTAH STATE PRISON — A man convicted of attacking five of his Mountain View High classmates in a locker room when he was a 16-year-old student went before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for the first time on Tuesday.
He described his mental state that led to the violent crimes, but said it was a surprising and confusing announcement of forgiveness from the family of one of his victim’s that helped him begin to see the world differently.
Tuesday’s hearing was held as the attorney for Luke Christian Dollahite has filed a new motion to try and keep his client from being transferred from a juvenile detention facility to the Utah State Prison.
Dollahite, of Orem, was 16 when he attacked fellow students in a Mountain View High School locker room on Nov. 15, 2016. He faced five charges of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, for stabbing four classmates and attacking a fifth with a bo staff.
In a plea deal, he admitted to four of the counts in juvenile court while the final count was transferred to 4th District Court where Dollahite was convicted as an adult of attempted aggravated murder.
He was sentenced to a term of 10 years to life at the Utah State Prison. Dollahite was ordered to be transferred to the prison once his time in the juvenile system was done, according to court records.
On Tuesday it was noted that Dollahite, who turned 20 in November, has completed his juvenile sentence. But he is still being held in a juvenile detention facility.
Dollahite ‘s attorney filed a motion last week claiming that his client was given an illegal sentence because it “exceeded statutory maximums and violated his double jeopardy rights.”
According to the motion, the blended sentence “had never been done before in Utah County,” and Dollahite wants to remain in juvenile detention until he is 25.
When Dollahite agreed to multiple plea agreements arising from his case, he was “still a minor, suffering severe psychological symptoms and facing the potential of life in an adult prison when he was forced to make an agreement with the state, which he could not legally enter or mentally understand,” according to the motion. “It is a classic case of coercion by the state.
“Never before in Utah County, and never since, has a juvenile been placed in the coercive position of choosing to plead in adult court in order to stay in the juvenile court system. These types of ‘blended sentences,’ while technically allowed under the law, do not account for the unconscionable circumstances in which a juvenile is placed and forced to make a life-altering, and potentially life-ending decision should the juvenile end up in a violent adult prison,” the motion says.
Blended sentences, however, have been issued in Utah courts outside of Utah County.
- In 2015, 16-year-old Aza Vidinhar was sentenced to juvenile detention until he was 21, at which time he was to be sentenced to the Utah State Prison, for killing his two brothers.
- Marqus Paul James, who was 15 at the time of his crime, pleaded guilty in juvenile court in 2015 to firing a weapon at another person, and to manslaughter in 3rd District Court, for killing a man following an argument on a bus.
- In 2017, 17-year-old Marilee Gardner received a blended sentence after she purposely rammed her car into the back of another vehicle in a suicide attempt. She survived but killed two others in the other vehicle.
Once an offender turns 21, juvenile courts no longer have jurisdiction over that person.
While board member Denise Porter, who conducted Tuesday’s hearing, acknowledged that Dollahite’s motion is still pending, the decision was made to continue with the parole hearing even though Dollahite isn’t in prison. The hearing was scheduled in 2017 after his sentencing.
‘I was really lost’
The board took extra time for Dollahite than a typical parole hearing because it was his first hearing and it is a high-profile case. For nearly an hour, Dollahite was polite and took long pauses as he recounted his crimes.
“There’s no excuse,” he said. “I was in a really bad place.”
Dollahite said he hadn’t slept or eaten much in the days leading up to the attack at the Orem school. He had been home-schooled until that year when he was enrolled at Mountain View High. He said adjusting to high school was extremely stressful, and after a while, it felt like he was just going through the motions.
“When I was awake, it felt like I wasn’t there,” he said. “I just didn’t feel like I didn’t have any part of my own life.”
After his arrest, Dollahite was diagnosed with personality disorders and persistent depression. But he said Tuesday that at the time, he kept his depression hidden from his parents.
“It didn’t seem like it would matter,” he said.
Dollahite said school seemed to be the source of his depression, and he reached a point when he considered taking his own life.
“Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. Not even my parents. I was really lost. And I felt like nothing mattered,” he said. “School is where all the pain seemed to come from. I had to go there every day. … Every day I would go there and I would hate it.”
When asked to recount the events of Nov. 15, 2016, Dollahite took a long pause before explaining that morning.
“It just felt like I was still dreaming. I just didn’t really think. I just got up and moved,” he recalled. “I got up and got my backpack and opened it and poured all the stuff out. I put some bags in it, and I got a couple of sticks and I went and waited for the bus.”
Dollahite said he was also having feelings that day of, “I just wanted it all to be over. I didn’t want to do this anymore. ... I didn’t think anything mattered.”
After attacking the first student with his stick, Dollarhite said he walked through the rest of the locker room in a kind of fog and doesn’t remember much.
“I wasn’t thinking, I was just moving. I couldn’t stop,” he said. “After I hit the first person, I didn’t care. None of it mattered.
“There never was a reason. It was never a personal reason or a real reason,” Dollahite continued.
He said he kept a knife in his pocket as well as several in his backpack because he was afraid one would break and he wouldn’t be able to stab himself at the end.
One boy who was stabbed in the neck repeatedly when Dollahite returned to him after stabbing another teen suffered permanent paralysis to his right arm. Another said in court that Dollahite’s blade passed mere millimeters from vital nerves, and if they had been severed, he almost surely would have died.
Prosecutors said Dollahite dressed in red that day, expecting “a lot of blood,” and was intent on killing as many people as possible before taking his own life.
As teachers cornered Dollahite in a bathroom, he stabbed himself in the neck. The five victims survived.
After he was taken into custody he was first taken to a local hospital where Dollahite recalled, “All I wanted to do was to get them to kill me because I didn’t want to be around, I asked everyone to let me die. None of them would.”
Once he was booked into a juvenile facility, Dollahite said he began to eat, sleep and exercise more regularly. He said he actually didn’t mind being in juvenile detention. But he said he was only existing and did not want the help of counselors or medications.
“I thought that I was a monster, that I shouldn’t be alive, that I was unforgivable. I didn’t want someone to help me. I didn’t want any meds, I didn’t want anything,” he said. “I hated myself for being so horrible.”
‘How could you forgive me?’
But during his court hearings, he heard through either direct testimony or letters read to the court about how severely he had traumatized his victims in addition to physically injuring them.
One boy thought he would never be able to use one of his arms again and struggled through the rest of high school and even lost a scholarship because of his injury, Dollahite recounted. He also learned how his actions not only affected the five victims, but also their families and the entire school and community.
But it was at sentencing, when the family of the boy who lost use of his arm, read a letter in court saying that they forgave Dollahite that made a big impact on him.
“I thought that was crazy, How could you forgive me? I don’t forgive me,” he said.
Dollahite said Tuesday that he began thinking that if his victim could forgive him, then maybe he could forgive himself. He then started working with a counselor whom he liked. Over the next several months, Dollahite said he read a lot of books and credits the counselor and the staff at the Decker Lake Youth Center for helping him with treatment.
“I wish I could make up for what I did. ... I don’t want to add any more pain to this world. I want to make it better. I want to help people as much as I can,” he said of his goals today. “I want to help people, because I’ve already hurt too many.”
Dollahite also credited support from his parents for helping him through his depression.
When Porter asked what he would do if he is transferred to the Utah State Prison, Dollahite replied, “I’ve decided already, I’m going to make myself succeed no matter what.”
At the end of the hearing, Dollahite revealed he has written many letters to his victims, and has received correspondence from the family that forgave him, and learned that the boy has regained use of his arm. He read to the parole board one of the letters he wrote to the family.
In it, he stated he had no excuse for his actions.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t deserve to get all the kindness that I did. But you forgave me, and my parents have forgiven me,” he wrote. “I’m so sorry I hurt your son. I will never let myself hurt another person.”
After reading his letter, Dollahite told the board, “I’m never going to forget what I did. That’s important.”
The full five-member board will now vote whether to grant parole should a time come when Dollahite is transferred to the prison.