SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 11 months after shooting and killing a University of Utah student near Red Butte Garden, a man accused in a violent two-state crime spree admitted what he'd done and asked for forgiveness.
"I know sorry doesn't mean much, but I'm truly sorry," Austin "AJ" Boutain told the court.
On Wednesday, Boutain, 24, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, for the shooting death of University of Utah student ChenWei Guo, 23. He also pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder and aggravated kidnapping, both first-degree felonies, for trying to lure a woman who was with Guo farther into the canyon to kill her, then shooting at her as she fled.
As part of the plea deal, Boutain was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors said Guo's family, and the woman who was shot at, accepted the plea bargain so they could both move on with their lives and avoid having to relive the tragic events during a trial.
"They were devastated, and they still are devastated," Salt Lake Couth deputy District Attorney Chou Chou Collins told the court of her meeting with Guo's parents last month.
She added that Guo's friend is still "so traumatized" by what happened that the idea of returning to Utah was almost too much for her to bear.
As part of plea deal, the state was able to resolve all six cases Boutain currently faces. In addition to guilty pleas in Guo's case, Boutain was convicted of aggravated assault of an inmate for stabbing another prisoner while in jail, and damaging a jail cell by causing a fire sprinkler to flood his entire cell.
Boutain still faces a charge of first-degree murder in Colorado, which is eligible for the death penalty in that state.
With Boutain's Utah cases closed, Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office in Colorado, said prosecutors there are preparing to move ahead with the murder charge, including discussing extradition possibilities.
"For us now, our process becomes more active. We are looking at the options and the choices and trying to determine what we want to do next," Russell said.
The violent series of events for Boutain and his wife, Kathleen Elizabeth Rose Boutain, 24, started in Golden, Colorado, on Oct. 27 after a night of partying with Mitchell Bradford Ingle, 63. Austin Boutain allegedly became enraged that the man was flirting with his wife and is accused of killing Ingle by slitting his throat, stealing his truck and driving to Utah with his wife.
Police say the couple drove to the foothills above the University of Utah to hide out. On Oct. 30, the Boutains devised a plan to either carjack someone in Red Butte Canyon and drive to Tennessee, or just kill someone and take their car, according to charging documents.
But the Boutains got into a fight over picking the right person to attack, the charges state. Eventually, AJ Boutain approached Guo in his car. But police say he became enraged when Guo wouldn't roll down his window and tried to drive away. Boutain shot five times until his gun was empty, killing Guo.
Boutain expected to plead guilty to aggravated murder, attempted agg murder, and agg kidnapping and be sentenced to life in prison.— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
The plea agreement will resolve all 6 Utah cases currently against Boutain.— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
Boutain will also plead guilty to attacking an inmate at the SLCO Jail and damaging a jail. All other charges will be dismissed.— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
Boutain will be sentenced to life in prison without possibly of parole. Judge tells him if he doesn't take plea deal, state may seek death penalty.— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
Prosecutors say family of ChenWei Guo approved the plea deal.— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
Boutain agrees to be sentenced immediately.— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
State says family of ChenWei Guo, still "devastated."— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
Boutain offers apology to families.
Judge sentences him to life in prison.
"I know sorry doesn't mean much, but I'm truly sorry," Boutain tells court.— DNews Crime Team (@DNewsCrimeTeam) September 12, 2018
Boutain then went back to his campsite to reload. When he came back, he attempted to lure the woman Guo was with farther into the canyon to kill her as well, according to the charges. She initially complied and started following Boutain into the canyon, but then ran away. Boutain fired twice, missing her.
The killing prompted a massive manhunt in the foothills above the U. and a lockdown of the campus. Boutain was arrested the next day when he was spotted at the downtown Salt Lake City Library.
On Wednesday, Boutain wore a yellow jail jumpsuit and had his hands cuffed in front of him and his legs shackled as he listened to the 3rd District Judge Richard McKelvie read the proposed plea deal. At one point, McKelvie reminded Boutain that if he did not accept the deal, prosecutors might choose to go forward in seeking the death penalty.
When asked if his client accepted the plea deal because of a potential death penalty, defense attorney Michael Sikora said the decision was based on "a combination of factors."
One of those factors, he said, was that Boutain feels remorse for what he has done.
"He certainly does," Sikora said. "This (resolution) was something that he was hoping for from the very beginning."
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, while acknowledging the death penalty was a possibility, has not directly said whether prosecutors would have pursued a death sentence if Boutain was convicted at trial.
Kathleen Boutain is charged with criminal solicitation, a first-degree felony, plus two counts of criminal solicitation and three counts of theft by receiving stolen property, second-degree felonies. She is scheduled to be back in court in November.
More on ChenWei Guo:
Also in the courtroom for Wednesday's hearing were Boutain's parents.
"His parents want everyone to know, want the victims to know, how sorry they are about what happened here and that they are praying for all of the victims and the victims' families," Sikora said.
Guo was born in Beijing, China, and arrived in the U.S. in 2012, according to his biography on the International Student and Scholar Services Office website. He served a mission in Provo for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was studying computer science at the U. at the time he was killed. His parents, Tong-ming Guo and Hua Zhou, live in China.