FARMINGTON — A convicted child killer and former Layton resident was sentenced Wednesday afternoon to spend the rest of his life in a Utah prison.
“Yes!” a woman in the courtroom exclaimed as 2nd District Judge John Morris ordered Joshua Scott Schoenenberger, 38, to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Schoenenberger was charged in May 2015, days after his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son JJ Sieger was taken to a Davis County hospital. After he was transferred to Primary Children’s Hospital in critical condition, doctors found that the boy had suffered “severe internal injuries” to his abdomen and no fluid could be found in the boy’s airways, charging documents say.
Schoenenberger and the child’s mother, Jasmine Bridgeman, initially told doctors that the child was found face down in a bathtub after being left unattended, according to charging documents.
Bridgeman was charged with obstruction of justice, and was convicted of lying to police about the boy’s death. In 2016, she was sentenced to serve a term of one to 15 years in prison. She is currently serving her prison term at the Utah State Prison, and her next parole hearing is set for May 2020.
Schoenenberger was convicted by a jury in October, just days before his 38th birthday. Jurors had the option to convict Schoenenberger of child abuse homicide, a lesser offense, but instead opted to convict him first-degree felony aggravated murder, according to online court documents.
During Wednesday’s sentencing, prosecutors called Dr. Todd Grey to testify as to the injuries he observed during the child’s autopsy in 2015. Morris, who was the presiding judge for the entirety of the case aside from the jury trial, assured prosecutors he wouldn’t need a refresher on the case before sentencing, but allowed Grey to testify nonetheless.
Grey, who at the time of the autopsy was the state’s chief medical examiner, said he found a large number of blunt force injuries to the child’s abdomen, head, torso and extremities. He detailed the tears found on JJ’s colon, and how the child’s liver was hemorrhaging.
Grey said that if the child was conscious during the attack, something that could not be determined one way or the other, the injuries sustained would have been very painful.
Next an aunt of the deceased child addressed the court.
“No words to describe the turmoil this has put my family through,” she said. “There is a lifetime JJ will never experience. He was so loved when he was with us.”
She asked the court to keep society safe and prevent a similar crime from being committed by the same person.
Deputy Davis County Attorney Nathan Lyon said that Schoenenberger had maintained his innocence throughout the case, and the jury “soundly” rejected his account of how the child was injured. Lyon said that the defendant claimed he never wanted to hurt JJ, but the evidence clearly pointed another way.
“This was an absolute bar fight between grown man and defenseless toddler,” Lyon said.
Lyon added that doctors could not prove if the child was conscious during the attack, but a witness who lived behind the home said during the trial she could hear a child screaming from the bathroom before a window was shut. Crime scene investigators observed that the window was shut during their sweep of the home, Lyon said.
For the charge of aggravated murder, Morris could choose to give Schoenenberger either a sentence of life in prison or 25 years to life. In 2016, prosecutors elected not to seek the death penalty against Schoenenberger.
Lyon asked for Schoenenberger to be given life without parole for his actions, which he has continually denied.
Edward Brass, Schoenenberger’s attorney, argued for his client to receive the lesser of the two sentences. He argued that hope is a powerful force for change, and asked the judge not to extinguish his client’s hope of release.
“Hope is a powerful incentive for someone to change,” Brass said.
When given the opportunity, Schoenenberger declined to address the court.
Before delivering a sentence, Morris meticulously combed through Schoenenberger’s case history, starting from 2015 through the final court hearing. Morris also dissected all neutral, mitigating and aggravating factors of the case.
He deemed Schoenenberger’s admitted past drug use as a neutral factor, as well as the 38-year-old’s high school education and lack of a stable career. Morris noted that Schoenenberger had several felony charges filed against him in the past that were pled down to misdemeanor offenses.
Schoenenberger successfully completed probation twice, and at one point was ordered to take anger management classes, which he completed.
Ultimately, Morris said, the more serious factor was the crime itself. He noted that Schoenenberger admittedly attacked the child due to issues with toilet training, causing bruising all over JJ’s body. There were lacerations and abrasions to the boy’s genitalia.
Morris said he has not heard any expression of remorse, and understood that Schoenenberger believes he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
“I can tell you this court has not heard any expression of remorse or any apologies,” Morris said. He called Schoenenberger’s actions “indifferent and cruel.”
Morris sentenced Schoenenberger to spend the remainder of his life behind bars, and gave him 30 days to appeal.