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St. George • Though he knows that his sister's killer will spend the rest of his life behind bars, Jessie Jerden doesn't feel justice has been served.
Jerden said he feels Paul Clifford Ashton, who admitted to shooting and killing Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden in 2010, should not be allowed to spend the rest of his days in federal prison, that it is too comfortable for the man who shot his 27-year-old sister and another man in a St. George apartment.
"I guess this is as close to justice as I will get," Jessie Jerden told Ashton during his Wednesday sentencing hearing in 5th District Court. "But it will never, never bring my sister back. … Not only did I have to bury my sister and plan it all, I have to pay for her headstone. I don't see how that is by any means fair. So I hope you live with that every day, the gravity of what you have taken from this world."
Ashton, 34, walked into Judge James Shumate's courtroom on Wednesday knowing what his sentence would be: life without the possibility of parole.
The day before, he was sentenced in federal court to life in prison plus 10 years for an unrelated murder also in 2010, where he admitted to aiding in the death of Bradley Eitner, 43. As part of a plea agreement between defense attorneys and Washington County prosecutors, it was agreed that Ashton would be allowed to serve his sentence in federal prison. He has requested to be sent to Tucson, Arizona.
Ashton offered a brief apology to the victim's family before Shumate sentenced him to spend the rest of his days behind bars.
"Looking back at the situation at hand, doing drugs to being out of control, it was a side of me I don't like," he said. "I can only say for the victims, for the families, that I am truly, truly sorry."
Ashton's attorney, Douglas Terry, echoed comments he gave in federal court the day prior about what pushed Ashton to murder: his addiction to methamphetamine and being shot seven times and left for dead in an industrial area in Ogden in 2007.
"But for those things, we would not be here today," Terry said. "That's tragic, it really is. Paul has taken responsibility for his conduct in this case, and by so doing, he has forfeited his liberty for the rest of his life."
Ashton was originally charged in 5th District Court with two counts of first-degree felony murder, along with the first-degree felony attempted murder and third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance in connection with the Dec. 11, 2010 murder of Jerden and another woman who was killed that day, 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen.
According to state court documents, Christensen and 28-year-old James Fiske were helping Jerden and her boyfriend move out of Ashton's townhouse after he accused them of stealing items. Tensions escalated and prosecutors allege Ashton killed Jerden and wounded Fiske, while Ashton's co-defendant, 32-year-old Brandon Perry Smith, killed Christensen to silence her.
Aric Cramer, Ashton's former attorney had said previously that Ashton, who was using a wheelchair at the time because of a fractured leg, reacted after Jerden hit him in the head with a toolbox.
In July, Ashton accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to aggravated murder for Jerden's death and attempted aggravated murder for wounding Fiske. He also pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance.
Outside of court, Jessie Jerden described his sister as a loyal, loving sister, who was also a wonderful mother. He said her death has rocked their family, and has been especially difficult for his mother and Brandie Jerden's son.
"She was a free, fun spirit," he said. "One of the best I've ever known."
Ellen Hensley, Christensen's mother, also attended Wednesday's sentencing. She said she hopes for her daughter's side of the case to resolve soon. A five-day preliminary hearing for Smith, who is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated assault, is set to begin in October.
Even after seeing Ashton being sentenced to a life in prison, Hensley said there was no satisfaction to be had. She said she will likely feel the same if Smith faces the same fate.
"It's not going to change anything in my life," she said.
In Ashton's federal case, he admitted in May in U.S. District Court to kidnapping Eitner and aiding in his Oct. 31, 2010 murder. According to court documents, Eitner had passed out at Ashton's apartment that evening and Ashton, with the help of another individual, carried Eitner to his truck outside the residence. On the way out the door, Ashton banged Eitner's head against the door frame "at least once," according to a court document.
Ashton placed Eitner in the truck bed and slammed the tailgate against the man's head "at least once." After driving around for a while, the unidentified man with Ashton urged him to take Eitner to a hospital or the local homeless shelter. Ashton apparently became enraged and said, "I'm going to smash his head with a rock and beat his head with a shovel."
He stopped the truck, got out, retrieved a rock and struck Eitner in the head with it.
Ashton then dropped the other man off at his own home and picked up another individual, who is identified in court documents as Ashton's "accomplice."
The two drove to a secluded location in the Arizona desert and helped Eitner, who was still alive at that point, out of the truck.
"My accomplice then shot Mr. Eitner twice with a rifle, and at least one shot hit Mr. Eitner in the head," Ashton said in a plea statement. The accomplice pushed Eitner off an embankment, where he became wedged in a rock crevice.
Eitner's body was discovered on March 11, 2011. An autopsy determined he died as a result of blunt force head trauma and a single gunshot wound.
The U.S. Attorneys Office said Wednesday it could not comment on whether an additional suspect the alleged "accomplice" was being sought in connection with Eitner's slaying.