OGDEN — Despite a last-ditch effort to get his murder conviction dismissed, an Ogden teen was sentenced to a prison term Wednesday morning.
Xavier Soto, 19, was sentenced to a term of 16 years to life in prison on one count of murder, a first-degree felony. He was also sentenced to a term of zero to five years on a third-degree felony weapon possession charge, but a judge ordered the two terms run concurrently, meaning they are to be served at the same time.
Soto was arrested days after 28-year-old DJ Parkinson was found lying in a patch of grass in the 2200 block of Monroe Boulevard around 9:50 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2019. Investigators found that Parkinson died from two stab wounds — one to his back and another in the chest. Soto was named as a suspect and turned himself in to police custody days later.
In April, much of the evidence in the case against Soto was presented to the court during a preliminary hearing. Witnesses told the court how they had heard an argument between Soto and a woman. One witness said she heard the argument before Parkinson went outside and the situation calmed down.
The witness said that Parkinson went up to a man believed to be Soto and “nudged him” just before Parkinson took off running, with the other man giving chase. She said she didn’t see where the two went, and walked back to her mother’s nearby apartment building, thinking Parkinson would be there. She soon found the area full of police officers.
A jury found Soto guilty of first-degree felony murder in December. Soto was also was allowed to plead no contest to one count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, a third-degree felony. A “no contest” plea is similar to that of a guilty plea. However, the individual charged does not have to admit fault.
After the conviction, Soto’s attorney Randall Richards filed a motion to arrest judgment, arguing there were grounds to toss the conviction. That motion set up the Wednesday hearing.
Richards outlined a number of arguments he believed would amount to show Soto was deserving of having the conviction dismissed. He first pointed to one witness’ testimony that appeared to change between a preliminary hearing in April and the December trial. Richards argued the woman’s testimony changed and that she could not identify Soto as the perpetrator.
“Her testimony was so full of holes, there’s no way it could carry water,” Richards said.
Deputy Weber County Attorney Branden Miles rebuffed the claim, arguing the woman had testified that she only met Soto that night and didn’t know his name. She did, however, say that the man who was fighting with a woman earlier in the night was the person who ran after Parkinson, according to Miles. He went on to say that multiple people testified that they saw the reported conflict between Soto and the other woman.
Richards said that police and a medical examiner said the assailant who stabbed Parkinson did so with their right hand, and Soto is left-handed. He argued that in the heat of the moment, one would use their dominant hand. Miles countered by saying it is possible for someone to use different hands for different tasks.
“We think that’s a weak basis to overturn a guilty verdict,” Miles said.
One of Richards’ final arguments was the fact that the selected jury did not include a single member of the Hispanic community, and that his client has a legal right to be tried by a jury of his peers. Richards pointed to one Hispanic woman who made it past an initial round of the selection process but was not picked as a juror.
Judge Joseph Bean asked Richards if he objected to this issue before the trial began, which Richards said he did not. Bean also pointed out that the court had no evidence that Soto or the juror in question were Hispanic, saying he didn’t believe one’s name alone can determine someone’s ethnic background. Richards argued that his client’s name and appearance would be enough evidence to prove someone’s ethnicity.
During a rebuttal, deputy Weber County attorney Patrick Tan said that the juror in question was dismissed because after she said she knew three of Soto’s immediate relatives. Tan also cited Utah case law that supported the dismissal of a potential juror with knowledge of a defendant’s family members.
All in all, Bean ruled to deny the motion to arrest judgment, saying that Richards had not met the burden of proof needed to overturn the jury’s verdict. After a brief respite, the hearing continued with Soto’s sentencing.
Three of Parkinson’s family and friends elected to address the court, each expressing a deep sadness over the man’s death.
“DJ had hopes and dreams, he wanted a wife and kids,” one family member said. “But now he will never know the joy of having a family of his own.”
Each described him as a fun-loving, kind-hearted person who cared for the many people in his family. One family member said their grieving has been plagued by court appearances.
“He definitely did not deserve what happened, he was a loving man,” said one woman. “I just want to reiterate how amazing he was and how loved he was.”
All three who spoke also voiced their anger over what they believe was Soto’s lack of remorse throughout the case. One family member said the teen is “an extreme threat to the community,” and asked the court to sentence him to life in prison. Another said she would try to forgive.
“I agree that (Soto) has not shown remorse, and it’s hard for me to understand,” she said. “I will try and forgive him, but it will be hard.”
When given an opportunity to speak, Soto declined to address the court.
Bean, largely bound by state statute, sentenced Soto to spend at least the next 16 years of his life in a Utah state prison. The teen was also given credit for time served at the Weber County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest last February.
Richards added that Soto will be appealing his case, and asked the court to appoint Soto appellant counsel.
As he was led out of the courtroom, Soto turned and said, “I love you guys,” to family and friends sitting in the gallery. Many responded saying they loved him too.
Soto will be transferred to the custody of the Utah Department of Corrections to begin his prison term.