SALT LAKE CITY — Two days after police reported 16-year-old Jerrad Jacobsen had accidentally shot and killed himself in his room, his mother wept and held his stepbrother at a vigil.
In following days, officers told her they no longer believed Jerrad pulled the trigger. They arrested his stepbrother, who had visited Jerrad to borrow some clothes the day of his death and told police he was turned away from Jerrad when he heard a single shotgun blast.
“I loved you as if you were my son,” Theresa Toledo on Thursday told the 15-year-old boy who has since taken responsibility for her son's death. “I don’t know what was going through your head or what your problem is or was, or why you took him from us.”
Toledo and her family members sobbed and held each other in a Salt Lake City courtroom as a judge ordered the teen to an indefinite term in a secure detention facility. The Deseret News is not naming him at this time.
During the sentencing hearing, Jerrad's family members recalled him as a "big-hearted" friend who took care of his younger siblings, loved football and boxing, and dreamed of becoming a rapper. Several vented frustration over his stepbrother’s manslaughter conviction, arguing he should have faced a more severe charge of murder. Some alleged he was jealous of Jerrad and had made threats in the past.
“How is it OK to take a life, whether it’s an accident or not?” Toledo said. “My son’s not ever coming back.
"This will never be OK,” 3rd District Juvenile Judge Susan Eisenman responded. “If the court could turn back time, there would be true justice in this case.”
The judge ordered the young defendant to not appear in court Thursday because of “threats made specifically on the life” of the teen. Instead, he and his attorney participated over the phone.
"What I did was not right and I know that,” the teenager who fired the shotgun blast said in a voice thick with emotion. “And I will regret it for the rest of my life. And I'm sorry to everybody that I hurt. Jerrad was there for me every second of every day.”
The apology did little to console Jerrad’s aunt, April Bagshaw, who recalled that he showed little emotion during the March vigil for his stepbrother and said she believes the killing was not a mistake.
“This is cold-hearted,” she said. “You had to think to pick up a gun. You had to think to put it to his head. You had to think tho pull the trigger.”
On March 18, Police arrived at 5007 W. 5400 South in Kearns to find Jerrad dead in a bedroom. An autopsy later revealed that the wound on the top left side of Jerrad's head, previously thought to be an exit wound, appeared to be an entrance wound, and he may have been shot at a downward angle.
The boy told officers he believed the gun was unloaded, a factor prosecutors said limited how far they could go in charging him.
In June, the teen pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a second-degree felony, as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. In exchange, remaining charges of obstructing justice and damaging a jail, both third-degree felonies, were dismissed.
He admitted he grabbed the gun and pointed it at Jerrad when "I wasn't thinking," then pulled the trigger, causing Jerrad's death. He had not taken any steps to see whether it was loaded and admitted he had gone to his stepbrother's house in part to smoke.
Jerrad’s mother and several family members told the judge that his loss has torn their family apart. Several criticized sentencing guidelines that recommend six months for such a conviction.
Outside the courtroom, Jerrad's mother emphasized that she plans to push Utah lawmakers to pass lengthier sentences when a child or teen takes a life. Family members held a tri-fold board with photos of a smiling young Jerrad — as a toddler in front of a birthday cake, a kid with a headlamp and a teenager with his chin up and lips pursed.
Eisenman ordered the teen to a secure detention center, the maximum penalty available, where he could remain until he turns 21. She did not recommend any specific length of time and noted that how long he spends in custody ultimately will be up to youth parole authorities.
More than a dozen members of Jerrad’s family did not stay for the explanation and streamed out of the courtroom.
Just before reading his sentence, Eisenman urged him to reflect on his decision not to immediately disclose what happened and how it has worsened his family's grief. However, she said, she hopes he “will somehow be more than this one minute.”
Correction: In an earlier version, Theresa Toledo's first name was misspelled as Teresa.