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Man who killed date is judged mentally ill, triggering sentencing options

By Mark Shenefelt - | Dec 10, 2021

Photo supplied, Davis County Jail

Ethan Hunsaker

FARMINGTON — A Layton man who pleaded guilty to fatally strangling and stabbing a woman he met through a dating app has been deemed mentally ill, meaning he might receive mental health treatment before he goes to prison.

Second District Judge David Connors ruled Dec. 2 that there is clear and convincing evidence that Ethan Hunsaker, 26, has a mental illness. That triggers a process under state law in which Connors will have several options when he sentences Hunsaker on Jan. 12.

The ruling followed a Nov. 17 hearing in which Hunsaker’s status was reviewed. An evaluation report submitted by Jess Dunn, a licensed clinical social worker with the Utah Department of Human Services, said Hunsaker has recurrent major depressive disorder with psychotic features, plus generalized anxiety disorder.

Hunsaker called Layton police on May 24, 2020, saying he had just killed someone. Officers found Ashlyn Black, 25, strangled and stabbed in Hunsaker’s home.

Hunsaker and Black connected on the Tinder dating app the night before the slaying, police said.

A probable cause statement said Hunsaker was cooperative with police, telling them he strangled Black, then got a pocket knife from the kitchen and stabbed her repeatedly.

The affidavit said Hunsaker had been diagnosed with mental illnesses and he was taking prescription drugs for those illnesses. He told police that he had daily thoughts of suicide and homicide, the statement said.

On June 29 this year, Hunsaker pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree felony murder.

Jason Nelson, the Davis County Attorney’s Office prosecutor on the case, said Friday that the judge will have three options under state law when he conducts the sentencing hearing. All three options include imposition of the penalty of 15 years to life in prison.

Under the first option, Connors could sentence Hunsaker to the Utah State Hospital, “kind of a joint jurisdiction over the case” with the Utah Department of Corrections and the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, to provide treatment to Hunsaker.

Option two would involve the judge sending Hunsaker for treatment before sentencing him. The treatment would be reviewed by the court after six, 12 and 18 months. Connors could impose the sentence at either of the first two reviews, and state law says the sentence must be imposed by the 18-month review period.

The final option would be to send Hunsaker straight to the Utah State Prison to serve the sentence.

Nelson declined to say which option he will recommend, because the case remains active.

Efforts to contact Hunsaker’s attorney, Mark Arrington, were not immediately successful.


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