Man who killed Layton woman in 2020 sent to state hospital, then prison

An undated photo of Ashlyn Black, 25. A judge on Tuesday ordered a Layton man to be sent to the Utah State Hospital before going to prison after he pleaded guilty but mentally ill for the May 2020 murder of Ashlyn Black, 25.

An undated photo of Ashlyn Black, 25. A judge on Tuesday ordered a Layton man to be sent to the Utah State Hospital before going to prison after he pleaded guilty but mentally ill for the May 2020 murder of Ashlyn Black, 25. (Family Photo)

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FARMINGTON — When Ashyln Black's sister took to the witness stand, she and other family members told the court of Ashlyn's compassion for others and the void left in the family after her murder. Black's sister lamented that much of the case has focused on her killer, 26-year-old Ethan Hunsaker, and the questions of his mental health throughout the case.

"We haven't talked about Ashlyn," she said. "We haven't talked about who she was or her impact on the world."

During an emotional court hearing Tuesday afternoon in Farmington, family members of the 25-year-old Black remembered her as a loving, caring member of their family.

Judge David Connors ultimately ruled that Hunsaker, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill on June 29, will spend up to 18 months at the Utah State Hospital for treatment before he will serve his prison term of 15 years to life behind bars.

Connors made clear that after Hunsaker's stay at the state hospital, he will be transferred to a state prison to serve his 15-years-to-life sentence. The total prison time would be a decision made by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Hunsaker could be sent to prison earlier if the state hospital chooses to do so, or he will be sent to prison after 18 months of treatment at the state hospital.

The hearing started with testimony from Dr. Rick Hawks, a psychologist who told the court he had diagnosed Hunsaker with several mental health conditions shortly after his August 2020 arrest. He recommended that Hunsaker be sent to the state hospital for continued mental health treatment.

Jess Dunn, a licensed clinical social worker at the Utah State Hospital, also testified Tuesday. She also suggested that Hunsaker be sent to the state hospital for treatment, as she believed the hospital would be a safer option for both Hunsaker and those around him. Dunn told the court that Hunsaker told her he had homicidal ideations while in the Davis County Jail, an omission that caused the judge to be concerned with where Hunsaker would be sent following his sentencing.

Dunn said that if he were to be sent to the state hospital, he would be initially placed in a housing unit without a roommate. He would then be evaluated by the hospital that would place him elsewhere in the hospital depending on his security level.

Mark Arrington, Hunsaker's attorney, argued Hunsaker should be placed in state hospital custody and receive mental health treatment for the sake of Hunsaker's safety and those around him. Hunsaker did not address the court during the Tuesday hearing.

As members of Black's family addressed the court during the hearing, each told personal anecdotes of how special Black was to them.

Black's sister said she was one of the most special people she's ever known. Ashlyn Black volunteered at women's shelters, worked at daycares and was an advocate for those in the LGBTQ community, her sister said. The loss of her sister has brought indescribable trauma to her and her family, she told the court.

"She was a good person," Black's sister said. "She tried her best to do good things in this world."

Black's mother told the court that her daughter always had a way to find humor in unusual circumstances, and she had a fierce love of her family. She told the court that Hunsaker ripped her daughter's life away and changed her family's lives forever.

In addition to sharing her memories, Black's mother also condemned the court, voicing her frustration with the judicial process in the case. She said members of her family have felt the court has not been courteous to their family while providing accommodations to the defendant. She referenced how there was a delay in her daughter's cremation due to the court, which caused a significant amount of pain to her family.

Black's mother showed photos of her daughter to the court, shortly after she described how Hunsaker had arrangned to meet with Black before strangling her and stabbing her to death. According to initial charging documents, Hunsaker told police he met Black on Tinder and she later fell asleep on his arm before he killed her.

"He will forever be a danger to society," Black's mother said.

Jason Nelson, a deputy Davis County attorney, said there's no question that Hunsaker needs to receive treatment, though he argued such treatment is available in Utah prisons. Nelson pointed to Hunsaker's homicidal ideations while in jail and said the 26-year-old expressed little remorse since the killing.

After taking a brief recess to review the available options, Connors returned and explained his decision to the court. He ruled that Hunsaker would be sent to the Utah State Hospital for mental health treatment for up to 18 months, though he could be transferred away from the hospital earlier if they deem he is more mentally stable.

The judge went on to apologize to the Black family for how long the court process has gone on, saying there was no way for him to "ease the burdens of those who have to witness the process and ... to relive the hurt and the anger and the anguish."

Connors said that his decision was made out of concern for not only Hunsaker's well-being but also for those around him. He pointed to Hunsaker's homicidal thoughts as a cause for concern if he were to be transferred to a state prison immediately. He apologized to the family if they believed the decision would only elongate their suffering by knowing Hunsaker wasn't in prison, though Connors said that the 18-month cap on his state hospital stay would prevent Hunsaker from staying at the Provo facility indefinitely. Either way, Hunsaker will be going to prison.

Hunsaker has remained in the custody of the Davis County Jail since his arrest shortly after the May 24, 2020, murder. He will be sent to the state hospital in the coming days.

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Jacob Scholl joined as a reporter in 2021. He covers northern Utah communities, federal courts and technology.


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