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Despite being convicted of taking part in a kidnapping and execution-style slaying near a Weber County ski resort, Viliamu Seumanu still insists he is innocent.
That assertion made no difference on Friday, when 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy sentenced the Magna man to life in prison without parole a term requested by prosecutors and the victim's family.
Defense attorney Rudy Bautista said he will file an appeal on behalf of Seumanu, who prosecutors say was not the triggerman in the fatal shooting of 34-year-old Cleat Knight in 2013 but helped carry out the crime.
Before the sentence was handed down, Seumanu apologized to Knight's family, saying he had made bad choices.
"I'm sorry for your loss," he said.
Seumanu also said he is innocent and described himself as a loving, caring person.
Prosecutors and Knight's family members rejected that claim and said the punishment is appropriate.
"This is probably one of the most brutal murders I've seen," Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Vincent Meister said.
Kelly Flowers, Knight's sister, said Seumanu will have the opportunity to see family members when they visit him in prison while her brother will never meet his son, who was born after the slaying.
"My little brother meant the world to me," Flowers said. "He was a good person and he was only 34 years old. You deserve life in prison without the possibility of parole."
She added that Seumanu is "evil to the core."
Skanchy sentenced Seumanu to prison terms of one to 15 years for obstruction of justice, 15 years to life for murder, 15 years to life for one of the aggravated kidnapping counts and life without parole for the other kidnapping conviction. Under the law, a sentence of life without parole can be imposed in kidnapping cases that result in serious bodily injury or death.
At a trial that began in March, prosecutors argued that although Seumanu, 43, did not fire the fatal shot, he was an active participant in the horrific crime, which was payback for the alleged theft of drug money.
According to prosecutors, Seumanu helped plan Knight's murder, along with Christopher Leech, 36, Theron Myore, 44, and Tina Soules, 42, who is Seumanu's sister-in-law. The three have pleaded not guilty and their cases are pending.
Prosecutors said Seumanu helped kidnap Knight in South Salt Lake and another man, Andrew Beck, in West Valley City on Nov. 22, 2013. The two men were then driven bound and blindfolded to an area near Snowbasin ski resort and marched 100 yards from a truck to a spot at the base of a snowy, moonlit ridge, according to prosecutors.
Beck testified at trial that he was handed a gun and forced to shoot Knight, who was a friend of his, or be killed himself. He said Knight was begging for his life but Leech told him it was too late.
Later, prosecutors said, Seumanu destroyed evidence that would show Knight and Beck were kidnapped, and he disposed of Beck's bloody clothes.
Bautista said at trial that Seumanu was forced to participate and did not plan anything. On Friday, he told the judge that his client thought the incident might involve a beating but never thought a murder would take place.
Meister responded that the defendants began talking about killing Knight and Beck hours before the murder and Seumanu had dozens of opportunities to leave during that time but stayed.
"He's never truly taken responsibility for his actions, Meister told Skanchy.
Seumanu was the first defendant to go to trial.
Court records show that Leech will be in court for a scheduling hearing on July 6, and Myore is scheduled for a change of plea hearing on Aug. 3. No trial date has been set for Soules.