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Prosecutors oppose Ogden teen’s bid to be sentenced in juvenile court

By Mark Shenefelt - | Nov 26, 2021

Getty Images/iStockphoto, iStockphoto

OGDEN — Prosecutors are fighting a defense attorney’s request that Brandon Parker, an Ogden teenager who fatally shot his friend in the head, be sentenced in juvenile court rather than potentially face a Utah State Prison term.

After the March 14, 2020, death of 16-year-old Caden Ferguson, the Weber County Attorney’s Office charged Parker, then 17, directly in 2nd District Court, an option prosecutors have to bypass juvenile court in severe cases.

Two months ago, Parker agreed to a plea bargain, admitting to second-degree felony manslaughter. He originally was charged with first-degree felony murder.

A few days before the scheduled sentencing this month, defense attorney Randall Marshall filed a motion saying a 2020 change in state law requires that Parker’s case be transferred to juvenile court now that the murder charge effectively has been dropped. In juvenile court, Parker could be sentenced to several years behind bars in a secure juvenile jail; the district court sentence could mean one to 15 years in the state prison.

Prosecutor Dean Saunders, a deputy Weber County attorney on the case, said in a response to the motion that Marshall only filed the request after a presentence investigation report came back recommending Parker go to prison rather than get probation.

Saunders argued that state law allows the juvenile court transfer scenario only if a district court murder charge results in an acquittal or a dismissal. He argued the plea bargain to a lesser charge was not a dismissal, but an amended charge. The facts of the case are the same, he said.

The law says nothing about a plea to a lesser charge, which Saunders argued does not meet the definition of a dismissal. “In light of the consistent distinction between dismissal and amendment pursuant to plea, if the Legislature had intended for plea offers to result in cases being returned to the Juvenile Court, it would have stated so,” Saunders said. “The two terms have well-established meanings with distinct legal effects. Accordingly, the court should not equate the two here.”

The prosecutor said adoption of Marshall’s motion would “work an absurd result,” a legal description of a result far beyond legislative intent. “Moreover, to do so would unjustly deprive the state of the benefit of the plea bargain and leave the state with little to no ability to make plea offers in such cases in the future,” Saunders wrote.

Marshall responded in another document, filed Wednesday, that nothing in the court record or the plea bargain says Parker must be sentenced in district court. “The state received the benefit of its bargain,” Marshall said. “The court does not protect a party from a poor bargain if that is what the state believes it now has.”

Judge Cristina Ortega has scheduled arguments on the issue for next Thursday.

Parker, who is Black, is out on bail pending sentencing. Black Lives Matter of Utah raised $25,000 to post bail for him, the group arguing that the shooting was an accident and alleging the murder charge was excessive.

Charging documents said Parker, Ferguson and another teen were at the kitchen table of Parker’s parents’ home. The third teen testified in a preliminary hearing that Parker pointed a handgun at Ferguson, who shouted, “Don’t point that … gun at me,” then Parker pulled the trigger. Ferguson was dead at the scene from the shot to the forehead.

In the plea bargain, prosecutors dropped three other charges against Parker: possession of a stolen gun and obstructing justice, both second-degree felonies; and use of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony.

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