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PROVO — One of three men accused of carrying out a hate crime attack on a Black Latter-day Saint missionary pleaded guilty to a reduced charge Tuesday as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
Malachi West, 21, of Payson, pleaded guilty to assault, a class B misdemeanor, in Provo’s 4th District Court. He was originally charged with a third-degree felony count of assault.
Police said West, along with his brother, Sebastian West, and another man, Nathan Thomas, of Nephi, attacked the missionary, who is Panamanian, as he tried to call police to report the threats they were making toward a homeowner in Payson on Jan. 28.
Police said the group threw the missionary’s phone across the street before “all of the suspects” attacked him, punching and kicking him before struggling with him on the ground. Investigators said the group called the missionary the N-word and began punching and kicking him in the head, saying, “This is our town,” and “Go back to slavery."
Defense attorney Dana Facemyer said the missionaries arrived at the house in Payson just after Malachi West and a handful of other suspects got there.
Facemyer acknowledged “there were racial slurs that were used” in the assault, but didn’t say Tuesday whether his client uttered them. Facemyer also maintained that Malachi West wasn’t responsible for injuries the missionary suffered to his lips, head, shoulder, ribs and forehead.
“Although my client did not physically touch somebody, your honor, he would acknowledge that he participated with the group of people he was with, which did involve an assault,” Facemyer continued. “He is accepting that accessory level of offense.”
Although my client did not physically touch somebody, your honor, he would acknowledge that he participated with the group of people he was with, which did involve an assault.
–Dana Facemyer, defense attorney
West appeared over a video feed from his attorney’s office, wearing a face mask and responding “guilty” when Judge James Brady asked for his plea. The hearing was held remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has previously said the church has concerns about what happened and is grateful the missionaries escaped serious harm.
Deputy Utah County attorney Gregory Johnson said he spoke with the victim in the case about the plea deal.
Malachi West faces a maximum sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 when he is sentenced on Sept. 29.
Sebastian West returns to court for an arraignment on Sept. 22. The judge has issued a warrant for Thomas’ arrest after he failed to appear in court.