FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) — A Utah teenager pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of murder, acknowledging that he intentionally and knowingly stabbed his two younger brothers to death last year.
Aza Ray Vidinhar, 16, agreed to a deal Wednesday in a court in Farmington, Utah, that calls for him to serve time for one count of murder in juvenile detention until he turns 21. After that, he’ll be transferred into the adult court system to serve time for the second count of murder on a sentence that could be as long as life or as short as a few months or years.
Vidinhar was calm, stoic and spoke in a deep voice during consecutive court hearings in juvenile and adult court where judges made sure he understood the parameters of the deal. He didn’t say anything beyond responding to the judge’s questions. But his attorney, Todd Utzinger, said Vidinhar is sorry for what happened and took the deal in part to spare his parents from having to endure a trial.
His parents were present at both hearings, but they left the court without talking to reporters. His father wiped tears from his eyes while his mother sat in silence. Utzinger called it a somber day despite a deal that both the defense and prosecution, as well as the parents, agree is fair.
“They are in an impossible situation,” Utzinger said about the parents. “They are trying to balance their love for Aza and their other children and how to handle an event of this magnitude. They just want an opportunity to move on privately with their lives.”
The agreement brings resolution to a case that sent shockwaves through the middle-class subdivision where the family lives in West Point, a city of 9,800 about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City.
Vidinhar’s younger brothers, 4 and 10, were found dead in May 2013 when his mother returned home from taking another sibling to a dance recital. At first, the older brother was thought to be a third victim because he was missing from the crime scene, but police found him hours later with traces of blood on him.
Authorities said they believed stabbings were an unplanned attack.
The Associated Press did not previously name the boy because of his age, but it is now using his name because he has been charged and pleaded guilty as an adult.
Utzinger declined to discuss what Vidinhar said about what happened that night. He also declined to discuss if Vidinhar has any mental illness.
In signing off on the deal, juvenile court Judge Janice Frost said the agreement adequately balances public safety needs while giving Vidinhar access to treatment and rehabilitation services in juvenile court that he needs.
Frost implored Vidinhar to take advantage of treatment he’ll receive in juvenile detention and the opportunity to finish his high school degree. She said it’s clear that he needs guidance and direction he would not receive in adult prison.
Frost told him multiple times that how he behaves in juvenile detention will impact how long he spends in state adult prison.
“You can’t make up for what happened. But you can commit to doing better and being better,” Frost said. “It’s a sad thing that happened, but you can move forward from this. I hope you can take advantage of your opportunity.”
Outside court, Utzinger said sending Vidinhar first to juvenile detention gives him a real chance at rehabbing.
“It would be inhumane for any 16-year-old child to go straight to the prison without first having an opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation,” Utzinger said. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Once Vidinhar is transferred to adult state prison, his attorneys plan to ask the parole board to immediately review the case and assess his behavior in juvenile detention to decide how much longer he’ll serve in adult prison.
The plea deal calls for a sentence of up to life, but the parole board could go to the opposite extreme and give him credit for time served and let him out immediately, Utzinger said. If Vidinhar doesn’t do well in juvenile detention, he could serve many years in state prison.
“If he isn’t rehabilitated by 21, the state wanted the safety valve of having him go to prison to see how he does there,” Utzinger said.