SALT LAKE CITY — One of the most painful moments tied to her son's death came almost four years after Jenny Brotherson laid him to rest.
She learned this summer that the teenage brothers convicted in the death of Cody Brotherson, a 25-year-old West Valley police officer, were released early due to a gap in Utah law. Ironically, they walked free because they'd committed new crimes while in juvenile detention, only to be arrested again once they were back on the streets for their involvement in new alleged crimes.
"It was both shocking and painful to be told that both brothers had essentially been rewarded for their additional crimes," the mother of the slain officer told a legislative panel Wednesday at the Capitol in a voice thick with emotion.
The House Judiciary Committee agreed that a change is needed. It voted unanimously in favor of a bill to fix a disconnect that allows certain juvenile offenders who commit new crimes to be released earlier, rather than held longer.
Jenny Brotherson described feeling victimized yet again over the summer following a Deseret News report that two brothers convicted in Cody Brotherson's 2016 death had been released early, then were arrested after allegedly committing a new crime — a shooting.
The case prompted Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, to sponsor the measure he said would ensure that a youth who has been sentenced to detention for the maximum possible time — until age 21 — ultimately will remain in the state's custody for at least that long.
The teenagers convicted in Brotherson's death, Lawrence and Christopher Boggs, faced new charges after getting into fights at an Ogden juvenile detention center. They were kicked out of the juvenile system, the charges were filed in adult court and the brothers served short sentences for the adult crimes. They were then released in April and May without any further penalty for Brotherson's death.
Officers pulled over a stolen car in July to find the pair inside. Lawrence Boggs, 18, was critically injured with gunshot wounds, West Valley police confirmed, and was wanted following a shootout. Christopher Boggs pleaded guilty in December to a reduced charge of theft, a second-degree felony, for the stolen car.
"They would have stayed in detention until they were 21, but because they committed the additional offenses, these offenses ironically led to shorter sentences," Hall said.
His measure would clarify that the juvenile system can still keep a youth in its own detention center after the young defendant pleads guilty of a crime in the adult system, and allows for coordination between youth and adult parole authorities.
It also allows judges to decide whether a young defendant can chip away at an adult sentence while in the youth system, or whether the sentences should be consecutive, meaning additional time in jail or prison is needed upon a youth's release from detention.
Monica Diaz, director of the Utah Sentencing Commission, said there's long been a misconception in Utah's legal community that transferring a case to the adult system will surely result in tougher penalties.
"I just think the community perception is that juvenile court would be the hand slap and the district court is the hammer," she told the Deseret News, but the brothers' cases illustrates that's not always how it works out.
Brett Peterson, director of Utah Juvenile Justice Services, spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would help ensure accountability in the system.
Brotherson expressed relief after the legislative meeting, saying she wasn't sure how the panel would receive the bill.
"I think Cody is very proud," she said.
If the measure passes, she added, other families won't have to endure the same experience that hers has. And the change would better protect the public, she noted, "which was always Cody's drive for being a police officer."
HB67 advances the full House for consideration.