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A tearful rape victim, her voice choking, told a judge on Thursday that her attacker, a teenage Somali refugee, should go to prison as an adult and not be released after nearly four years in the juvenile detention.
But others also choked up when they told of the progress in understanding and behavior Mohammed Ali Mohammed has made since his arrest in 2011 for two rapes on consecutive nights in Salt Lake City.
In 2012, Mohammed, then 15, pleaded guilty in juvenile court to three felony level charges and was ordered to a secure detention facility. He also pleaded guilty first-degree felony rape and second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and kidnapping as an adult, for which he is now facing sentencing.
One of the two victims of Mohammed's August 2011 attacks at the Thursday sentencing hearing addressed 3rd District Judge Vernice Trease, who is weighing whether Mohammed should be released to supervised parole and continued treatment or sent to the Utah State Prison.
The victim said she has made some progress in dealing with her fears but still suffers nightmares and other trauma. She also regrets her inability to have a romantic relationship as a result of the crime.
"I want to be able to let love into my life and be loved by a man," she said, imploring the judge to sentence Mohammed to a lengthy prison term. The Tribune's policy is not to identify victims of sexual assault.
Heidi Nestel, an attorney with the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic, said the second victim was unable to speak at the hearing because of lingering emotional issues.
Mohammed, now 18, also spoke to Trease, who said she was postponing a decision on sentencing until next week when she receives further information.
"I feel very sorry for what I did," he said, dressed in a white shirt and dark pants, with his hands handcuffed in front of him. "I talk to my advocate every day and the only thing I talk about is my victims. I hope and pray they heal."
The case is a microcosm of a larger debate within the justice system about sentencing of criminals to prison versus treatment.
In Mohammed's case, he was born in a Somali refugee camp where he saw his brother killed by a robber, witnessed a rape and was himself the victim of sexual abuse, according to testimony at earlier proceedings.
Brent Pace, clinical director of the Utah Health and Human Rights, said victims of such violence often "act on the horrors of childhood by acting out the violence" they suffered because they lack a moral compass and empathy for their victims.
But he said Mohammed had made remarkable progress in treatment programs at the Wasatch Youth Center, a secure facility for juvenile offenders.
"It was nothing short of astounding," he said.
Rob Buttars, director of the Utah Criminal Justice Center at the University of Utah, said he and students studied Mohammed's case and found that overall he was a low risk to commit another crime but that prison would expose him to hardened criminals and increase that risk.
Others who also worked with Mohammed choked up with they told their experiences working with him and how he had grown to become a leader among offenders there.
His mother, Zahra Mohammed, dressed in traditional Somali garb with a long scarf that covered her head reached nearly to the ground, as were a whole contingent of women with her in the courtroom, spoke through an interpreter, who said she was "extremely sorry for the harm he caused to the victims."
But on the other side of the courtroom with one of the victims were friends and family who also spoke, including a sister.
"My sister has been given a life sentence," she said in asking for a prison for Mohammed.
Her mother declared that Mohammed was "not some misunderstood child."