MANTI A man who pleaded guilty last month to murdering two people on the same night in Sanpete County was sentenced Friday to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Sanpete County Attorney Ross Blackham told 6th District Judge David Mower that the sentence for Donald Bert Richardson represented the wishes of "the state, the victims' families and, in fact, the defense."
Blackham said he had considered seeking the death penalty. But the family of Martin Cannon, one of the victims, opposed the death penalty. And the family of the other victim, Annette Young, had stressed that they didn't want to go through the protracted appeals that inevitably accompany a death penalty.
Asked if he wanted to make a statement, Richardson, standing at the defense table and showing little emotion, said, "I want to say I'm sorry. Those words must seem empty for something so horrible. I think about Annette and Martin every day. I'll continue to think about them for the rest of my life."
The murders occurred April 10 in Fairview and Mt. Pleasant in the north end of Sanpete County. When Richardson pleaded guilty Nov. 13, he described what happened.
He said Young, a one-time girlfriend, let him into her home in Fairview just before midnight. He strangled her with his hands. Then he took a gun from her home and a car that was on her property and drove to Mt. Pleasant, about six miles away. He knocked on the door of a trailer home occupied by Cannon, whose family had become friends with Richardson. When Cannon answered, he shot him in the head, Richardson told the court.
The next day, he turned himself in to authorities in Douglas County, Oregon, near where he grew up and where several siblings and his three children lived.
About 30 family members and friends of both victims and the murderer were in court Friday. Their statements suggested that the brutal events of April 10 continue to have a wide impact.
Scott Hatch, a brother of Annette Young, said that four of her five siblings were in court, but her elderly parents weren't there.
"Mom and dad are not able to be here because of the emotions," he said, adding that the murder had "ripped apart" his elderly mother and "scarred her for life." He said 30 to 40 family members would be gathering soon for a family Christmas party, but Annette would be noticeably absent. "We're going to miss her. There's a hole in our family."
Angela Golden, the wife of Martin Cannon, said her family and Richardson had become friends after Richardson helped find her 5-year-old son when he wandered away from a family barbecue.
Richardson, she said, had been "a welcome guest in our home." She and her husband had even told their son that in an emergency, he could contact Richardson.
The same boy was five feet away when Richardson shot his father, Golden said. "My son helped me do CPR and wipe the blood off his face ... my son has lived a nightmare" and may have to go on medication, she said.
Tears flowed among people on both the prosecution and defense sides of the courtroom as the hearing wrapped up.
Judge Mower said, "I'm hoping for better days for all of us."
Kim Richardson of Cortes Lakes, Ariz., a sister-in-law of Richardson, approached victim families. "I'm really sorry for your family," she said.
People who knew Richardson during the two years he lived in Sanpete County have said he had an alcohol and drug problem and that his personality changed when he used substances.
His sister-in-law said, "A man on drugs did this, not the Don we know." She added that her husband, Richardson's younger brother, has been in counseling since the murders. An older brother who lives in Oregon has spent time in a psychiatric hospital in recent months. And she said Richardson's children, ages 21, 19 and 17, "They're not doing very well." During court statements, family members asked for assurances that the sentence of life without parole meant that Richardson would never leave prison.
The judge, county attorney and even Richardson's attorney gave those assurances. James Valdez, who defended Richardson, said the Utah statute defining the life without parole sentence clearly eliminates the possibility of a person so sentenced ever being paroled. "It's been my experience that those who have been committed to prison for life without parole have never left except at their own deaths," Mower said.