Springville man avoids prison in 'highly unusual case' after attempted murder of son

Nathan Roberts was sentenced to four years of probation Tuesday after pleading guilty to trying to shoot his son, during what investigators called a "mental health episode."

Nathan Roberts was sentenced to four years of probation Tuesday after pleading guilty to trying to shoot his son, during what investigators called a "mental health episode." (Yuri A, Shutterstock)

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AMERICAN FORK — A 52-year-old Springville man was surrounded by family, both online and in person, at his sentencing hearing Tuesday in what the prosecution called "a highly unusual case."

A little under a year ago, Nathan Roberts "attempted to kill his son and had plans to kill the rest of his family members," according to investigators, who said his plan had been in place for weeks. In the early hours of Sept. 21, 2023, charging documents say Roberts went into his adult son's room, pointed a handgun at his head and pulled the trigger — but the weapon did not fire.

The man cocked the gun once again, aimed again and paused as the two looked at each other, the initial police booking affidavit says.

In a moment, the gun had been knocked into a nearby drawer and Roberts was "crumpled" on the bed, where he "began bawling, exclaiming how sorry he was, that he can't believe he did this and that he just destroyed their family," court documents state.

Family members later told police that Roberts' mental health had been declining over the previous months and he had been "contemplating suicide for a while," the affidavit says. "He did not want them to have to find him dead," and said he thought his family members "were hurting like he was."

Roberts later told investigators "he knew he would go to hell for this, but at least his family would be in heaven and not suffering anymore," according to the court documents.

What to do if you see warning signs of suicide

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

According to defense attorney John Easton, Roberts spent five days at a hospital for mental health treatment before being booked into jail. "This is an individual that, as you can see from his history, had never been in jail — a BYU graduate, served a mission — a person that was in the community and really quite admired."

After 66 days in jail, Roberts was released "with some of the most stringent GPS" Easton had seen, and was only allowed to be at his parent's house and at treatment. Intensive daily treatment programs, therapy and family counseling followed before the protective order was lifted and he was allowed to return to his family.

Roberts' son spoke to the court at Tuesday's sentencing and said, "Everything's been going well since my dad's been home. We've been putting a lot of work and effort into repairing relationships and bringing life back to better than it was before."

As a result of a plea deal reached in May, Roberts pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted murder, a second-degree felony. The original charge was a first-degree felony.

On Tuesday, less than a year since the incident, Nathan Roberts was dressed in a white shirt and tie, sat at a table with his mother, father, wife and defense attorney. His oldest son was listening online.

The adult probation and parole department recommended a term of one to 15 years in prison, but 4th District Judge Roger Griffin said "it seems to this court that we'd be taking a major step backward in protecting the family and the community and Mr. Roberts if we were to reincarcerate him."

In the end, Roberts was sentenced to 66 days of jail with credit for time served and to four years of probation, which, if successful, would allow the defense to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor.

Griffin said he thought it was important Roberts' therapist wrote a letter to the court, which was read in part by Easton, saying, "It is my opinion, based on my direct observations of Nate's behavior, what his family reports and the many conversations we have had, Nate does not currently pose a threat to himself or anyone else."

"I think the court and the prosecution looked at the facts of the case carefully, and it was impressive to me as I've watched this case for almost a year, that the family had a lot of strength and love. It was impressive, the commitment to therapy and probation by Mr. Roberts," Easton told KSL.com.

"I think the sentence reflects that, although, very unusual on such a serious charge."

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Crisis hotlines

  • Huntsman Mental Health Institute Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • SafeUT Crisis Line: 833-372-3388
  • 988 Suicide and Crisis LifeLine at 988
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

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