Shepherd guilty on all counts in Pineview boating death

Dec 15 2012 - 9:41am

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Skyler Shepherd reacts to the juries verdict of guilty on all counts at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Skyler Shepherd sits by his lawyer Glen Neeley after the juries verdict of guilty on all counts at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Prosecutor Dean Saunders makes his closing argument during the Skyler Shepherd trial at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Defense attorney Glen Neeley makes his closing argument during the Skyler Shepherd trial at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Skyler Shepherd sits by his attorney Glen Neeley while he listens to the prosecutor's closing argument during his trial at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
FILE - Skyler Shepherd appears at 2nd District Court in Ogden, Utah for his trial on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Skyler is one of the men charged with failing to rescue a swimmer cut down fatally by his powerboat's propeller. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Kera Williams)
FILE - Skyler Shepherd listens to witness testimony during his trial at 2nd District Court in Ogden, Utah on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Skyler is one of the men charged with failing to rescue a swimmer cut down fatally by his powerboat's propeller. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Kera Williams)
FILE - Judge Ernie W. Jones speaks to the defense attorney during the Skyler Shepherd trial at the 2nd District Court in Ogden on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Skyler is one of the men charged with failing to rescue a swimmer cut down fatally by his powerboat's propeller. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Kera Williams)
Skyler Shepherd reacts to the juries verdict of guilty on all counts at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Skyler Shepherd sits by his lawyer Glen Neeley after the juries verdict of guilty on all counts at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Prosecutor Dean Saunders makes his closing argument during the Skyler Shepherd trial at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Defense attorney Glen Neeley makes his closing argument during the Skyler Shepherd trial at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
Skyler Shepherd sits by his attorney Glen Neeley while he listens to the prosecutor's closing argument during his trial at the 2nd District Courthouse in Ogden on Friday, December 14, 2012.  (KERA WILLIAMS/ Standard-Examiner)
FILE - Skyler Shepherd appears at 2nd District Court in Ogden, Utah for his trial on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Skyler is one of the men charged with failing to rescue a swimmer cut down fatally by his powerboat's propeller. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Kera Williams)
FILE - Skyler Shepherd listens to witness testimony during his trial at 2nd District Court in Ogden, Utah on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Skyler is one of the men charged with failing to rescue a swimmer cut down fatally by his powerboat's propeller. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Kera Williams)
FILE - Judge Ernie W. Jones speaks to the defense attorney during the Skyler Shepherd trial at the 2nd District Court in Ogden on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Skyler is one of the men charged with failing to rescue a swimmer cut down fatally by his powerboat's propeller. (AP Photo/Standard-Examiner, Kera Williams)

OGDEN -- In the end, the defense couldn't silence the screams Skyler Shepherd said he never heard.

After three days of testimony and two hours of closing arguments, a 2nd District Court jury needed barely 90 minutes to find Shepherd guilty on all charges in the Aug. 21, 2011, boating death of Esther Fujimoto on Pineview Reservoir.

The propeller of Shepherd's boat, driven by friend Colton Raines, broke Fujimoto's pelvis and slashed her lower body, nearly severing one leg.

Shepherd -- claiming he saw no injuries and did not hear any screams -- then took the wheel to leave the scene with the swimmer bobbing in the water.

In closing arguments, Deputy Weber County Attorney Dean Saunders told the six-member jury that Shepherd can make his denials, "but the best evidence was heard over 200 yards away."

Saunders said that was the distance from which Vaughn Anderson heard Fujimoto's screams as the boat drove over her.

Anderson heard three to five screams from the front yard of his home abutting the Spring Creek inlet area. Anderson testified to a 22-second span between the first and last screams.

Saunders quietly counted aloud 22 seconds to the jury: "Think about that after that boat's been shut down."

Raines stopped the boat about 30 yards from Fujimoto after hitting her. Shepherd took the wheel from the shaken Raines and drove back to Fujimoto, where he claimed he asked if she was all right, failed to see any injuries and left her there.

Defense attorney Glen Neeley was able to offer some kind of alternate view to the prosecution's case, almost point by point. But all he could say in closing arguments about the screams was that Anderson wasn't sure of their time frame.

Shepherd has declined comment to the assembled media all week. He expression unchanged, he sometimes held his head in one hand during testimony. He remained stoic at the verdict, even after he was surrounded by the media as he waited for the courthouse elevator, essentially trapped with Neeley against the elevator door.

"Skyler made a mistake. We all make mistakes," Neeley told the jury. "Mistakes are not always criminal. Skyler wishes he would have done more, wishes he'd realized what was going on."

Saunders said more serious charges could have been filed if officers were able to take blood samples at the crime scene from Shepherd and Raines. According to testimony, Shepherd and Raines had been drinking that day and Raines had possibly been smoking marijuana.

But the men claimed no knowledge of Fujimoto's plight when officers had all Pineview boat ramps blocked off shortly after the collision was reported by Vaughn Anderson. Officers were questioning all boaters about the incident, detaining some for up to two hours.

Saunders and his boss, Weber County Attorney Dee Smith, on hand for the verdict, said afterward that if the men had tested positive for any impairment that night, they could have been charged with the boating equivalent of automobile homicide.

That charge could have been a second-degree felony with up to 15 years in prison. Instead, Raines and co-defendant Robert Cole Boyer, the third person on the boat, were blood-tested for marijuana nine days later, tests proving negative.

Fujimoto might be alive today, Saunders told the jury, if Shepherd had called 911 instead of fleeing.

"Had something been done, Esther could have been saved, there is that possibility," he said. "He could have scooped her up, applied basic first aid. There were at least four cellphones on the boat."

He pointed to testimony that EMTs could have been at nearby Quist Beach within three minutes, and a medical helicopter within 10 minutes.

Saunders asked the jury to weigh the credibility of Anderson versus the credibility of Shepherd. "Who's more worthy of belief?"

When Shepherd voluntarily went to the sheriff's office Aug. 30, he spoke on condition that he not be prosecuted for giving false information to a police officer in the days immediately after Fujimoto's death, Saunders noted.

Shepherd initially told police he and friends were boating in a different part of the reservoir and never encountered Fujimoto. He later admitted to coordinating the cover story with Raines and Boyer.

Neeley said in his mind, Shepherd, whom he referred to as a "21-year-old boy," perceived the deal to mean he faced no prosecution of any kind.

"And he tells the truth, he bares all," Neeley said, "He has no incentive to lie."

Neeley was referring to the Aug. 30 videotaped interview with Detective Don Kelly that was played for the jury and in which Shepherd claimed he saw no injury to Fujimoto and didn't hear her scream.

Sentencing is set for Jan. 23 on the charges of reckless endangerment and obstruction of justice, both class A misdemeanors, and failure to render aid, a class B misdemeanor. Maximum sentence for a class A misdemeanor is a year in county jail; maximum sentence for a class B is six months.

After the verdict, Saunders asked Judge Ernie Jones to have Shepherd handcuffed and taken into custody immediately. "It's a class A misdemeanor case, and one of the most egregious class A misdemeanors there is.

"There is a valid concern that he may flee, based on what he did in this case, fleeing the scene of the crime."

But Neeley argued that Shepherd has maintained a good job, has no prior criminal record and has missed no court dates. "He has paid every respect to this court."

Jones declined the prosecution request, saying, "I'm going to leave him out until sentencing."

Raines faces the same charges as Shepherd. Boyer is charged with a single count of obstructing justice. Trial for both is set for Feb. 11-14.

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