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Ogden • For the last year, Casey Baird has lived in a world of "would've, could've, should've."
He wishes he would have seen the increasingly serious domestic violence going on between his 21-year-old daughter, Tawnee Marie Baird, and her girlfriend, Victoria Ashley Mendoza. He wishes he could have known that his daughter's story of how she chipped her tooth wasn't true, and that it was Mendoza who caused the injury.
He wishes that someone would have said something, before Mendoza stabbed his daughter 46 times while the two were in a car on the freeway in Weber County on Oct. 18, 2014.
"It was hidden," Baird said Tuesday, after Mendoza was given a 16-year-to-life sentence for Tawnee Baird's death. "I wish I would have known."
Mendoza pleaded guilty as charged last month to first-degree felony murder. Casey Baird, along with other family members, pleaded with 2nd District Court Judge Joseph Bean on Tuesday to put the 23-year-old Holladay woman in prison for the rest of her life, but the judge said his hands were tied, and that he could not impose anything other than a 16-years-to-life sentence because it was not an aggravated murder case.
"I wish it would have been charged as aggravated murder," the father said after the sentencing. "I don't see what wasn't aggravated about stabbing my daughter 46 times and letting her bleed out. But it is what it is."
Mendoza hung her head, her long, thick hair covering her face during the sentencing hearing. When given a chance to address the judge, she said just a few words.
"Everything they've [the victim's family] said is very hurtful to me," Mendoza said. "I have no excuse for what I've done. That's the main reason why I've pleaded guilty. I really have nothing to say. I'm the monster here."
Before the sentence was handed down, Tawnee Baird's family told the judge that they had welcomed Mendoza into their family and had tried to help her with her schooling and employment.
"I just can't believe it," said Dana Gunn, the victim's mother. "We loved her and we took her in. She called me mom. We would do anything for her. I loved her like a daughter. It's so hard to explain. I loved her and then she killed my daughter. It's been horrible."
The victim's family described Tawnee Baird as a loving girl who lit up a room, who loved animals and the outdoors. Baird's father said he held her up on a pedestal, and referred to her as his "lady bug."
Family members described Baird's relationship with Mendoza as volatile, but said they were also inseparable.
"We knew it was heading down a bad road," said Laina Anderson, the victim's grandmother. "We did talk to them about domestic violence. I don't even know if they realized, I don't know if they understood what was really going on. They both have bad tempers."
Prosecutors say that on the night of the homicide, Mendoza and Baird got into an argument while in a car on Interstate 15, and Baird slapped Mendoza and pulled her hair. The defendant "became enraged and snapped," and began stabbing Baird, according to Weber County Attorney Chris Allred.
The defendant's sister, Cindy Spencer, testified at a February preliminary hearing that Baird and Mendoza were jealous and controlling of one another, and they got into fights that escalated into hitting, kicking and punching.
After the stabbing, Mendoza called her sister and said she had hurt her girlfriend and asked Spencer to come to the parking lot of the Ogden church they had attended while growing up. Spencer testified that when she arrived, she found Baird dead in the car's passenger seat, covered in blood.
Gunn said after the hearing that she had tried many times to separate the two, and would give Mendoza money to take public transit to go to her family in Ogden and put space between them. But Mendoza always came back, Gunn said, sneaking through a window and making up with her girlfriend.
She said she felt Mendoza has showed a lack of remorse following the stabbing.
"She never looked at me," Gunn said. "I've never seen her cry. That really bothers me. We took her in and treated her like a family member. Just with open arms."
Casey Baird also said he didn't feel like his daughter's killer felt sorry for the crime.
"I don't think she's remorseful," he said. "I wake up in the morning, and I'm pissed. Like, wow, I have to face this nightmare again. Every single day. As far as domestic violence, we need to report it. It's serious."
Those who need help can contact the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition at 1-800-897-LINK or at udvc.org. Free and confidential help is available 24 hours a day.