Ex-Utah legislative candidate gets prison term

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — A former candidate for the Utah Legislature has been sentenced to prison after being convicted of pistol-whipping a man over a drug debt.

Mark Byrge, a 43-year-old from American Fork, will serve one to 15 years in prison after pleaded guilty in October to aggravated assault and obstructing justice.

Byrge was uncontested in a Democratic primary for Utah's 56th House District, but he dropped out of the race after his arrest in July.

Republican Kay Christofferson, the incumbent representative in the district, won the seat in November.

According to court documents, Byrge and another man were trading threatening text messages over money that escalated into a physical fight outside Byrge's apartment in June.

Byrge hit the man in the face with a walking cane and pulled him inside the apartment where he pistol-whipped and threatened to kill the man, according to police.

Text messages indicated Byrge was demanding payment for prescription pain drugs he had given to the man's girlfriend.

The man, who treated for cuts, testified in court against Byrge and said he shouldn't be around people.

Defense attorney Joshua Esplin said Byrge was left with severe back pain after a car accident years ago became dependent on prescription painkillers. Esplin said that led Byrge to a powerful addiction and a habit of selling drugs, The Daily Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1wh6egr).

"That led him down a path that brought him to you today," Esplin told Judge Christine Johnson.

Utah's Democratic Party said it was not working with Byrge on his campaign. Campaign finance records show he did not spend or raise any money on the effort.

Byrge was also sentenced Tuesday in a separate case involving drug distribution and firearms charges. Johnson sentenced Byrge to also serve one to 15 years in prison in that case, but the judge allowed him to serve the prison sentences at the same time.


Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com

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