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WEST JORDAN — Stacey Buchanan's four kids had to grow up fast when she died unexpectedly in 2016 from a drink her boyfriend spiked with methamphetamine.
Aaliyah Angelique, Buchanan's oldest daughter, told the court on Tuesday that she and her siblings were split up and sent to live with different family members, some of whom they barely knew. Angelique was close to graduating from high school at the time, and had been looking forward to sharing the occasion with her mom; when, suddenly, she was ordering flowers and doing her mom's hair and makeup for the funeral.
Angelique said the months after her mother's death were enormously difficult. She couldn't leave the house for work and school and she struggled eating and drinking, afraid it was all being poisoned. She "self-sabotaged" her relationships out of anger, and at one point was hospitalized with anxiety and panic disorder.
Eventually, Angelique said she gained legal custody of two of her siblings and has since been their sole provider — putting her own plans and dreams on hold to pay for an apartment, car, food, clothes and other expenses.
"I had to abandon my youth ... because of one man's selfish actions and decisions," Angelique said in a 3rd District courtroom on Tuesday. "I feel as if we all died along with (my mother) that day."
Angelique's comments came during the sentencing proceedings for Taylorsville resident Joshua Ryan Bridgewaters, 41, who was found guilty in September of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and tampering with a witness, a third-degree felony.
Judge L. Douglas Hogan ordered that Bridgewaters serve one to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charge and one to five years on the witness tampering charge. The sentences will run consecutively, and Hogan will recommend Bridgewaters receive "zero" credit for time served.
He added that while the parole board isn't bound by his recommendations, "I don't believe you deserve credit for any of the time served."
Bridgewaters spent nearly five years at the county jail as he rotated through different attorneys. His trial was set 10 different times, Hogan noted Tuesday, and all but one of those date changes occurred because Bridgewaters dropped "numerous competent counsel."
Buchanan was 33 when she died on May 29, 2016. Bridgewaters told police, at the time, that the two were drinking wine when Buchanan started to feel sick. According to police, Bridgewaters sought help from a neighbor who is a paramedic, but the neighbor later told investigators that by the time he saw Buchanan she was not breathing and her lungs were full of vomit and fluid. Police said Bridgewaters had not called 911, despite his girlfriend's condition.
Police affidavits said that earlier in the day, Buchanan called her mother, Robin Bingham, "and told her someone had poisoned her drink." When Bingham called back a short time later, she said she could hear Buchanan tell Bridgewaters to "stop it" and "stop grabbing my phone," before Bridgewaters took the phone and told Bingham that everything was fine, according to the court documents.
Bridgewaters contacted a friend who was with them earlier that day and asked what he had told police so their stories would match, the charges state. This made the friend suspicious and prompted him to confront Bridgewaters about what had happened.
Police also found marijuana in Bridgewater's coat, something he asked his friend to take the blame for because he was on parole and was not supposed to be around drugs, the charges state. Court records show Bridgewaters pleaded guilty in 2007 to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony.
Bridgewaters was charged in 2017 with murder, a first-degree felony, along with obstructing justice, a second-degree felony, and tampering with a witness, court records show.
During his trial in September, the jury was given the option to convict Bridgewaters of a reduced charge of manslaughter, instead of murder — meaning he recklessly caused his girlfriend's death but did not show indifference to human life or knowingly create a great risk of death. The jurors found Bridgewaters guilty of manslaughter and tampering with a witness, but not guilty of obstructing justice.
'A piece of me that I will never be able to get back'
During Tuesday's sentencing, friends and family members described Buchanan as "a beautiful soul," "fun to be around" and someone with "such a big heart."
Bingham, Buchanan's mother, said Bridgewaters has caused her family additional anguish by dragging out the proceedings, "keeping us from getting the justice we deserve. ... He was still just looking out for himself."
Wendy Ortega, Buchanan's aunt, added that Bridgewaters deprived Buchanan's children of having their mother at weddings, graduations and other milestones in their lives.
And Daniel Cosby, the father of one of Buchanan's children, said the years he spent with Buchanan were some of the best of his life. Losing her, he said, has "taken a piece of me that I will never be able to get back."
Bridgewaters also addressed the court, at times rambling about how Buchanan's family doesn't know what really happened the night of May 29, 2016. "The truth will come out," he stated more than once, adding at one point that his conviction is the consequence of him not testifying at his own trial.
Bridgewaters also claimed he was falsely accused, that his prosecution has been a "revenge thing" for Buchanan's family, and that if he gets a new trial, "I can explain what happened."
"I should definitely be granted probation," Bridgewaters said. "I'm not a threat to these people. I'm not a threat to society. ... I'd really appreciate (going) home."
Hogan, however, said he was "shockingly unimpressed" by Bridgewaters' court statement, calling it "selfish" and "the sorrow of the damned."
He said that Bridgewaters, rather than showing any sympathy for Buchanan's family, instead, talked mostly about how nothing was his fault.
"I don't know if you'll learn anything from this (prison time)," Hogan said. "I've seen very little accountability."
Following the sentencing, Ortega said she is glad Hogan "saw through (Bridgewaters') games."