Judge orders life sentence 19 years after 'despicable' rape of 13-year-old

Shawn Michael Smith was sentenced Wednesday to a term of five years to life in prison for raping a 13-year-old girl in 2003. A DNA test 17 years after the crime led to the charges against him.

Shawn Michael Smith was sentenced Wednesday to a term of five years to life in prison for raping a 13-year-old girl in 2003. A DNA test 17 years after the crime led to the charges against him. (Iron County Attorney's Office)

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CEDAR CITY — A man found guilty of raping a 13-year-old at knifepoint in 2003 was sentenced Wednesday to a term of five years to life in prison, with a recommendation that he be kept in prison for life.

Shawn Michael Smith, 43, was charged with rape after the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, approved by the Utah Legislature in 2003, led to a retest of the victim's rape kit. Advances in technology for evaluating rape kits led to a match of Smith's DNA.

Fifth District Judge Matthew Bell said the crime was "despicable," and said Smith evaded justice for this crime for "far too long." He recommended that Smith be held in prison for the rest of his life, and imposed the highest minimum sentence allowed for the charge against him, five years.

"I do wish it were within my power to impose a greater sentence, but I am limited to what the law allows under the circumstances in this case," Bell said.

He cited changes in laws regarding how long past a crime a case can be filed, which led the state to amend the charge from rape of a minor, which has a higher minimum sentence requirement, to rape, a first-degree felony. A jury convicted him of that charge in December after less than two hours of deliberation.

Bell also said that the defendant is a career criminal, and cited many crimes that he has been convicted of, including multiple aggravated assaults, burglaries and escapes from custody. Multiple arrests occurred while he was on parole for other convictions. When these charges were filed against Smith, he was serving a sentence in Idaho for drug trafficking.

"Frankly the public needs and deserves to be protected from any future offenses by this unrepentant defendant," the judge said.

Deputy Iron County attorney Chad Dotson said Smith held a knife to the 13-year-old girl's throat while he assaulted her in Cedar City, and later attempted to wash away any evidence from her with soap and water. He also said Smith threatened her life if she told anyone about his actions.

Dotson said Smith's acts were cruel, despicable and vile, adding that Smith's criminal history shows that the community is safer when he is behind bars. He asked the judge to sentence him to at least 25 years, because that is what current statutes would require.

The victim did not want to speak, but Dotson did share some words from a statement that she submitted to the court. The victim said no woman should have to deal with something like she has.

"Him violating me is stuck in the back of my head forever, and so is the fear that he will do it again to another little girl when he gets out. I'm so afraid of him hurting me or my family since he threatened my life if I ever told anyone," the woman said.

"He is a dangerous individual, a predator, and he deserves a harsh sentence. This type of person is what every mother worries about. Men like him will do it again if they get the chance."

Smith only spoke a few words at his sentencing.

"I plead not guilty, and I'll leave it at that," he said.

Defense attorney Shain Manuele said he intends to file an appeal after the sentencing. He said that the fact that Smith has maintained his innocence should not be held against him, but should be evaluated in his favor.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.


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