SALT LAKE CITY — Her 12-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted by a man who posed as a high school student on social media.
But before Arik Jeppsen was sentenced through videoconference, the girl and her mother wanted to meet with him in person.
“He knew she was 12 years old. We wanted to see him face-to-face. Arik, I wanted to look you in your eyes and I wanted to see you tell me that you were sorry for doing what you did to my daughter,” said the mother, whose name is not being published to protect the identity of her daughter.
“He took her innocence. He destroyed her life. But he didn’t destroy her,” the mother said during Jeppsen’s original sentencing hearing on Jan. 27.
On Thursday, 3rd District Judge Matthew Bates included as part of Jeppsen’s sentence that a meeting between Jeppsen and the family be arranged should the family request it.
“I have never ordered something like that before,” the judge said.
That was just one unusual element in a two-part sentencing hearing that saw tempers flare from the mother and the judge over frustrations connected with online court hearings, which are being held over video because of the pandemic.
Jeppsen was 19 when he posed as a 16-year-old boy on Snapchat last year and began talking with the 12-year-old girl. Those conversations led to him picking up the girl and driving her to his house, where he sexually assaulted her.
Jeppsen was charged in March with eight felonies. The event was traumatic for the girl and her family. Her mother thought she was doing all she needed to protect her daughter.
But the mother also says her daughter should not be called a “victim,” but rather a “hero” for what she has done since that day, for being directly involved in Jeppsen’s case and for having the courage to face the man who assaulted her.
As part of a plea deal, Jeppsen pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony, in exchange for the other charges being dropped.
On Thursday, Jeppsen was sentenced to four years of probation. He was also given a suspended one-to-15-year sentence in the Utah State Prison and was given credit for the nearly one year he has spent in jail since his arrest. Jeppsen was ordered to complete sex offender therapy, register as a sex offender in Utah, and write a letter of apology to the girl.
During sentencing on Thursday, Jeppsen told the girl and her family that he was sorry.
“No parent should have to go through what you had to go through for the past 11, nearly 12 months,” he said. “You deserve a nice and prosperous life.”
Jeppsen actually thanked the family for reporting his actions to police.
“I honestly believe that you helped save my life,” he said.
A note that the girl had written to the judge was also read into the record. In it, she talked about her innocence and how she didn't think anyone on Snapchat would be there to hurt her.
“This has been a process ... and I’m sure down the road there will be more to get through,” she stated in the letter. “I feel like I’m coming out of this a stronger person. He didn’t break me.”
But getting to Thursday’s sentencing wasn't easy.
Because of the current restrictions regarding in-court appearances, each party appeared virtually in court from different locations.
Jeppsen was originally scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27. On that day, the girl had prepared herself to speak to the court.
The girl’s mother spoke first.
“This should have never happened,” she told the judge.
The mother attempted to explain how special her daughter is to the family by first talking about the traumatic experiences in the mother’s own life. She became emotional when she talked about the day she saw her ultrasound for the first time.
But approximately 10 minutes into her talk, the judge interrupted her.
“I appreciate what you’re sharing with me. I understand this is a very emotional incident for you and your family,” Bates said. “What is most helpful for me in a sentencing like this is helping me understand how this impacted your daughter, who is the victim in this case.”
“I wanted you to know how special this child next to me is,” the mother said. “My daughter has been raped and I’ve been waiting out here an hour-and-a-half, and I feel like this is the time.”
“Well, you can say whatever you like. I just wanted to give you some insights into what interests me as the person who is sentencing Mr. Jeppssen,” the judge said.
At that point, the mother attempted to continue talking, but then decided not to continue with her line of thought. “You know, it’s really pointless, I’ll just get into it,” the frustrated mother said.
But after several more minutes of speaking, Bates was forced to interrupt her again in order to reschedule some hearings that were supposed to happen after Jeppsen’s.
“We have a hard stop at 1:00 because of the jail schedule,” the judge said, noting the time constraints due to the videoconference feed from the jail.
Bates then decided it would be better to continue the hearing to a different date in order to give the family the time they needed to speak. He also told Jeppsen, who had been incarcerated for 322 days at that point, that he could be released and held in home confinement until the next hearing.
That was the last straw for the mother.
“I’m done. You cut me off. You didn’t give me what was afforded by the victim’s bill of rights,” she said as she stood up to leave. “My daughter just whispered in my ear, ‘Mom, they’re talking about other cases.’ You don’t care about her. You just showed her. You just showed her that. We’re insulted. You do what you want to do with Mr. Jeppsen. We’re done.”
Then, the mother made a final comment directly to Jeppsen, telling him not to rape another girl, but in more explicit terms.
“Sit down!” Bates responded in a stern voice showing his displeasure. “You are in a court of law. You will not leave the room. You understand? I’m going to ask you to be civil. You will not speak that way in my court. You understand?
“I have been very patient with you. I came in here expecting to hear how this has impacted your daughter, I spent a lot of time reviewing the presentence report. I spent a lot of time reviewing the sentencing laws that apply to this case. And I want to very much hear about the impact this has had on your daughter. I’ve not heard that. I’ve heard stories about your family. You spent 20 minutes talking to me about what happened before your daughter was even born.”
The judge then set Feb. 3 as the day to continue the sentencing hearing.
“These are difficult times,” he said, while apologizing to both sides about the time constraints. “I wish we could all be here in court and have all the time that we want, But we can’t. One day we will.”
For the next hearing, an attorney, Tyler Ayres, was appointed to represent the victim. He asked for the hearing to be delayed again so he could have time to talk with the family so they could better understand the process. That hearing was delayed until Thursday.
At Thursday’s sentencing, Ayres explained to the court that there was a miscommunication with the family previously about the court process and that they had expected to be more involved in the sentencing.
“They felt like they were going to be able to have more of a role in this sentencing than they have,” Ayres said.
He said it was explained that in the court system, “We want your input, but you don’t get to dictate what will happen,” and that victims and their families shouldn’t have to have the responsibility of deciding what appropriate punishment should be for a defendant.
Despite that, the mother, still frustrated, said Thursday she did not agree to the plea deal and that the family has been further victimized by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and was openly critical of the prosecutor.
When it was time for Bates to announce his sentence, he explained that he has a lot of discretion in what he can do, but he is also restricted in some areas by the Utah Sentencing Commission. He then granted the mother’s request that if they wanted to, he would make Jeppsen meet with them in person.
After issuing his sentence, Bates directly addressed Jeppsen, telling him, “There is only one person in this world who bears any responsibility at all for what happened. ... You failed here.”
The Deseret News asked District Attorney Sim Gill about the delay in sentencing due to time constraints and the criticism of his office.
He said everyone needs to understand that “we’re living in a once-in-a-century unique time” and commended the court system for not shutting down entirely.
“Crime has not stopped. Police calls, 911 calls haven’t stopped. Law enforcement has to respond. Bad people doing bad things to good people has not stopped,” he said.
But with online court hearings, he said, there is a stop time for when defendants can appear online from the jail.
“We are all competing for time blocks from the jail. There are different people and different judges trying to process those folks. So you have a window in which you have to get that particular caseload accomplished,” he said. “The reality is the jail is going to turn off the camera because they probably have to go to another judge’s calendar because they don’t have 20 studios at the jail.”
Sometimes, that reality can be frustrating for victims of crime, Gill acknowledged.
As for the mother’s comments, Gill said he does not take anything that a victim says personally. In fact, he encourages them to say whatever they need to say as part of their healing process, even if it’s negative comments about his office.
However, Gill said at the end of the day, a victim cannot create their own sentence.
“It is the state of Utah v. John Doe. It is not Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so v. John Doe. That state of Utah tag is an important one. Because while that emotion and that trauma and what you’re going through is critical to you, we have to step back and say, ‘Here are the parameters in which we get to function.’ And within that function, we have certain rules in terms of ethically what we can do, and legally what we can do, and procedurally what we can do. And our job is to be part of that process in the rules that we have all agreed to.”