Judge gives life without parole for man who attacked UVU student

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PROVO — A man who brutally beat a young woman and left her for dead near the Provo River Trail was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Shawn Leonard, 34, of Springville, received the maximum sentence Tuesday afternoon in Provo's 4th District Court.

On June 9, 2010, Leonard, who walked away from a jail work-release program, grabbed a 19-year-old Utah Valley University student as she was walking along the Provo River Trail and pulled her into the nearby bushes where he was hiding. At first he asked the woman for money. When she said she didn't have any to give, he told her to sit down and turn away.

She has her moments ... She's positive, though. She's a tough girl.

–Victim's mother

The next thing the woman felt was a string around her neck strangling her. She believes she may have blacked out for up to three hours. During that time, prosecutors say Leonard smashed her face with a rock and cement cinder block. When the victim came to, she found her pants and underwear around her ankles. She had only enough power to crawl back to the trail for help.

The victim had six teeth knocked out and later had to have two more removed because they were so badly damaged. Her jaw was broken and had to be wired shut.

Following the sentencing hearing, the woman's parents told reporters she is still suffering, but called the fact she survived the attack a miracle.

"She has her moments; when we come to court, when she has her surgeries, it's really hard," her mother said. "She's positive, though. She's a tough girl."

The victim did not speak herself, but though a statement read to the judge said her life has changed dramatically and she has lost her independence.

It just feels so secure he won't be able to [hurt anyone else] anymore.

–Victim's father

Her parents say she still faces several surgeries and will have problems for the rest of her life, including double vision. She is still missing a quarter of her teeth that can't be replaced with implants for several more months.

But now with Leonard in prison, the family says they all can begin to heal emotionally.

"It gives us peace of mind (that) he can't come back and can't hurt anybody else," the victim's mother said.

"And mostly that he won't be able to do this to anybody else," her father added. "It just feels so secure he won't be able to do that anymore."

Shawn Leonard did not address the judge or offer any apology before given his sentence. His sister said he is not a monster, but a drug addict. She blamed his actions on drug use.

Leonard was also sentenced for holding a woman hostage and robbing her at knifepoint at a store in Provo. That incident happened just hours after the brutal attack.

In April, Leonard plead guilty to attempted aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and two counts of aggravated kidnapping, all first degree felonies. In exchange for his plea, a charge of aggravated sexual assault, also a first degree felony, was dismissed. In a related but separate case, he also plead guilty in April to escaping from custody, a third degree felony.

More details about the sentencing hearing will be posted soon.

Written by Pat Reavy and Sam Penrod.


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