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ST. GEORGE — A southern Utah teenager who left a smoldering backpack containing shotgun powder and BB pellets in a school cafeteria last year has been ordered to four years of probation.
Martin Farnsworth, 17, admitted last month to placing a backpack next to a vending machine on March 5, 2018, while 75 to 150 students were in the cafeteria.
In a bargain with prosecutors, Farnsworth admitted that he told police "I would have been fine with it" if someone had been killed, court documents show.
The teenager declined to give a statement before he was sentenced Wednesday afternoon in 5th District Court in St. George. He pleaded guilty in March to attempting to cause injury or commit a felony with an incendiary device, a first-degree felony. Originally, he faced charges of attempted murder and using a weapon of mass destruction, both first-degree felonies.
Ahead of the hearing, a psychologist confirmed the teen is high-functioning on the autism spectrum and has depression, according to his attorney Ed Flint. The teen's mental health plummeted last year after months of bullying at school, Flint said, but he can be treated with medication and therapy.
"He has shown remorse and regret, but they're not the same as a person who's not on the autism spectrum," Flint added. He said the case shows just how hard the state comes down on those who put children and schools at risk.
St. George's Pine View High School was evacuated March 5, 2018, when investigators say students found the smoking backpack.
He has shown remorse and regret, but they're not the same as a person who's not on the autism spectrum.
–Ed Flint, defense attorney
Moments earlier, Farnsworth struck a match and lit a fuse on the device containing gasoline, shotgun powder, BB shots and matches, court documents show. Earlier in the case, a bomb expert testified the device could have sparked a fire but had a faulty fuse and would not have exploded. No injuries were reported.
Letters of support
In a letter to the judge, volunteers at a Washington County detention facility where Farnsworth has spent more than a year asked the judge to spare him prison time. One set of volunteers wrote in a letter that he is a spiritual teen who was raised in a home that values faith and love, and his social skills have improved.
Two more volunteers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wrote a letter to the court saying Farnsworth has attended every Sunday service over more than a year in detention and has a good attitude.
"I have never seen him show any anger or unkindness," their letter says.
Community service and apology
In addition to probation, 5th District Judge Michael Westfall sentenced Farnsworth to complete 250 hours of community service and write an apology. Westfall also ordered a new psychological evaluation, restricted Farnsworth's internet access for six months, and barred him from having guns or explosives at home. The judge suspended a prison sentence of five years and up to life, meaning it will not take effect if he successfully completes probation.
Prosecutor Angela Adams said the resolution will protect the community and minimize the chances of the same thing happening again.
Last July, a juvenile judge ordered him to face the charges as an adult. In a separate juvenile proceeding, the teen was ordered to probation and to pay restitution after he admitted to painting "ISIS is comi--" on a Hurricane High School wall in April 2018.