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A jury found a Herriman man not guilty of manslaughter Thursday after his sister's boyfriend died from injuries he suffered in a fistfight last year.
Cole Pedersen, 26, had been charged in 3rd District Court with manslaughter, a second-degree felony after delivering the fatal blows to 24-year-old Blake Burningham on Aug. 29, 2015.
A jury announced Thursday just before 6:30 p.m. that it had found Pedersen not guilty of the crime, which carries a one-to-15-year prison sentence, state courts spokesman Geoff Fattah confirmed.
Prosecutors told jurors that Burningham never had a chance to fight back after a scuffle broke out between the two men outside a Herriman home.
The fight, attorneys said, was over whether Burningham's girlfriend who is Pedersen's sister was struck while she was trying to split up a fight between Burningham and his own brother earlier that night.
Pedersen's attorney, Carl Anderson, said his client told Burningham several times that he didn't want to fight him before punches were thrown. Pedersen was trying to find out whether his younger sister had been struck by her boyfriend of four years, Anderson said.
"It's wasn't Cole showing up and attacking Blake," Anderson said. "[It was], 'I need to find out if my sister is going to be safe.' And it escalated unavoidably."
Pedersen went to Burningham's home near 5900 West and Moon Shadow Drive (13820 South) after his sister called him and said she had been hit by her boyfriend and needed a ride.
"He confronted Blake," prosecutor Nathaniel Sanders told jurors. "They were standing face to face. [Pedersen] struck [Burningham] in the face. That strike lay Blake onto the ground. He didn't move from that point. Cole knelt over Blake and continued to strike him."
Anderson said both men initially swung their fists and missed each other before Pedersen connected with Burningham's head. He told jurors that after the fight, Pedersen didn't flee but stayed at the Herriman home until police and paramedics arrived.
"That's not how somebody aggressive acts," Anderson said.
Burningham was put on life support at an area hospital, but he died the next day.
A Utah medical examiner concluded that Burningham died from blunt force trauma to the head, noting that the man suffered a broken nose and bruising in the mouth, along with bruising on the left of his head and face.