WEST JORDAN — A now 15-year-old boy admitted Monday to charges of attempted murder after police say he took a gun to school and shot another teen in the head.
The boy, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, admitted to all the allegations against him as prosecutors agreed to keep the case in juvenile court and not push to certify him as an adult, as Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill had said he intended to do.
As he read the allegations the boy admitted to Monday, 3rd District Juvenile Judge Tupakk Renteria asked the teen to explain what happened on Oct. 25.
"On that day, I brought a gun to school. I was confronted by Josh. I brought the gun out and shot him multiple times," the teen said.
As he sentenced the teen to detention in a secure care facility, Renteria said he was disturbed by the social media conversations surrounding the shooting, including asking a friend to record the altercation in case it came to violence.
Seated in the gallery, the teen's mother, who had been fighting emotion, gasped at the judge's statement.
If the case had reached a certification hearing, where the judge would have decided whether to move the teen to adult court or keep him in the juvenile system, Renteria told the boy he's not sure what he would have done.
The teen's attorney, Sophia Moore, said the boy is deeply sorry for what he did and he prepared an apology letter to read to the victim in court, but was too nervous to read it. She asked instead that the letter be turned in to the judge.
The victim, Joshua Cordova, 16, attended the hearing with family members. Prosecutor Thaddeus May told the judge that Cordova and his family agree with the plea deal, and the teen had told him he has "no hate in his heart" for the boy who shot him.
The 15-year-old shooter was charged with attempted murder and discharge of a firearm causing serious injury, first-degree felonies; discharge of a firearm, a third-degree felony; and possession of a gun on school property, a class A misdemeanor.
KSL News has opted not to identify the Union Middle School student.
According to police, the then-14-year-old and Cordova, a Hillcrest High student, met for a fight on the north end of the Union Middle School grounds, 615 E. 8000 South, just as class was letting out.
Police say the teen shot the older boy in the head, then shot him again after he fell to the ground. A teacher who was outside the school when the shooting happened told detectives at least three shots were fired, and the teen attempted to fire an additional round but the gun jammed, charging documents state.
The boy has been in juvenile detention since his October arrest and will remain in custody until his commitment to secure care.
The 15-year-old could potentially remain in juvenile custody until age 21. Prosecutors are recommending a lengthy stay for the teen. His release will ultimately be decided by the Youth Parole Authority.
May said prosecutors agreed to the deal in part because they believe it will keep the boy in custody longer than if he had faced the charges as an adult. Faced with a 15-year-old first-time offender in a nonfatal incident, there's no way of knowing what kind of a sentence a district court judge would have imposed, he said.
"A prison sentence did not seem likely, it seemed like probation would have been the likely outcome for him, which would have been jail and some kind of supervision at a level that probably wouldn't be adequate," May said.
May also noted the wide range of rehabilitative care that can be provided through the juvenile system.
Asked about the deal, Moore said the goal of the plea was to keep the teen in the juvenile system.
"Going to the adult system when you're 15 is terrifying, and the possible maximum for these charges is life. By going to secure care he'll get schooling and counseling," Moore said.
Victim advocate Spencer Banks, who represented Cordova, said the boy and his aunt met with prosecutors while the deal was negotiated. The family supports the deal, Banks said, out of a desire to see the teen held accountable. They had no issue with the case remaining in the juvenile system rather than moving to the adult system.
"Some sort of punishment is necessary and wanted by the victim and his family, but they're not wanting to see him sit in prison for the rest of his life," Banks said.
Cordova, who suffered serious injuries from the shooting, appeared to have full mobility and spoke easily when addressed by the judge. Banks said he is still recovering and wants only to put the incident behind him.
"He's recovering pretty miraculously, actually, it's pretty amazing to see," Banks said, recalling his first meeting with Cordova just days after he was discharged from the hospital.
As he ended the hearing, Renteria wished Cordova and his family well.