UTAH STATE PRISON — Sandra Kaye Chotia-Thompson said it started when she began taking prescribed pain medication for a bulging disc in her back.
And then she became addicted.
"It’s the same story you’ve probably heard a thousand times. I went from buying it off the street. Then that didn’t work. I ended up on the heroin. And that rapidly gets out of control,” she said in a recording of her most recent parole hearing from the Utah State Prison.
"I was severely addicted to drugs."
It was during that period of addiction when she met Kelly Fay Simons, 38, and the two women began a series of aggravated robberies throughout the Wasatch Front. At the time, police believed the women could be tied to six to nine robberies.
The duo's crime spree came to a head on Jan. 5, 2013, when they committed an armed robbery at Scaddy's Restaurant, 5430 S. 900 East. One of the women was disguised as a man during the incident.
Less than 20 minutes later, a Murray police officer spotted the same suspects about to enter a Family Dollar store at 6150 S. 1300 East. The officer ran after the women and shots were exchanged during the chase. No one was injured.
Four days later, a Joint Criminal Apprehension Team officer spotted Simons driving near Liberty Park at 974 S. 740 East. During an ensuing confrontation, Simons was shot and killed as she tried to flee from police. Chotia-Thompson was arrested a few hours later.
Chotia-Thompson was convicted of attempted aggravated murder and aggravated robbery and was sentenced to up to life in prison.
On Feb. 5, she went before a member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for the second time. The full five-member board, in a rare move, granted parole a few days after Chotia-Thompson's hearing. Typically, the board takes several weeks to reach a decision.
She is scheduled to be released April 9.
Chotia-Thompson was well spoken and alert during her hearing, and eager to point out her many accomplishments since being incarcerated, including earning a 4.0 GPA on her recent college courses.
She has also been saving money she has earned while in prison to pay restitution when she is released. She said she has even agreed to pay restitution for crimes she was never charged with.
"I interviewed with the police at length and made them aware of all the criminal activity, even the things they didn’t know about in the interest of setting things right as best I can,” she said.
When asked how she got to the point in her life where she was committing armed robberies, Chotia-Thompson said becoming addicted to heroin made her desperate. She also said she started hanging out with people, including Simons, who were not her normal crowd. Over the next several years, she said she fell victim to a "slow eroding of my connections and self confidence."
"It didn’t happen overnight. It was six years in that relationship to being a normal, responsible tax paying, working adult to what I was when I was committing these crimes,” she said.
Today, Chotia-Thopmpson said she takes medication for depressive disorder in addition to taking and teaching many classes. She teaches anger management class, tutors other inmates in their studies, and works with local churches. She also wants to make up for the things she did.
"I'm at peace with the situation. I’m doing everything that I can here to contribute back to society in ways that are available to me now,” she said.
"You’ve worked hard, there's no doubt about that," board member Anglea Micklos, who conducted the hearing, acknowledged to Chotia-Thompson.