This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Heber City » After six hours of deliberation Wednesday, a 4th District Court jury found Joshua Binkerd, 23, guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of a American Fork woman at Jordanelle Park.
After six days of trial, the four-man, four-woman jury found Binkerd not guilty of murder or aggravated murder in the death of Ashley Sparks, 22, on Dec. 26, 2008. They did find him guilty of the lesser included offense offered to the jury by Judge Derek P. Pullan.
Manslaughter, a second-degree felony, is punishable by 1 to 15 years in the Utah State Prison. Sentencing is set for June 16. It is unclear whether a firearms enhancement of five years could be added to the sentence.
In a tense and emotional courtroom, friends and family members for Binkerd and Sparks cried as the verdict was read.
Outside the courtroom, Sparks' mother Pam Larsen said, "Ashley got her justice."
Fighting back tears and clutching her daughter's childhood teddy bear, Larsen said she would have preferred a conviction on the murder charge. But she added, "No one else is going to be hurt by this man."
In April 2009, Christopher Alvey, 21, pleaded guilty to driving Sparks to the Jordanelle Reservoir and shooting her four times. He left her to die in the snow.
He is serving a sentence of 20 years to life. As part of that plea bargain, Alvey promised to testify that Binkerd had ordered the killing.
According to court testimony, Binkerd and Alvey were members of a gang in which Alvey was a subordinate. The pair trafficked in methamphetamine and forged checks.
After the verdict was read, Binkerd's mother, Tina Binkerd, said she was disappointed in the criminal investigation and the jury's verdict.
"Josh is another victim of Chris Alvey," she said. "We have no ill will toward Ashley's family. She was a victim, too."
Tina Binkered added, however, that she was relieved her son was not convicted of murder. She credited Binkerd's lawyer, Heber City-based attorney Edward Jones, for his efforts.
"I think Ed Jones saved my son from life in prison."
Binkerd did not take the stand in his own defense at trial. The jury, however, did watch two hours of videotape where Binkerd was interrogated on Dec. 28, 2008, two days after Sparks' murder. Throughout the questioning he denied telling Alvey to shoot Sparks.
Binkerd told police that he had instructed Alvey to take Sparks out of town and drop her off and to make sure she didn't come back. Alvey testified that he believed those instructions were an order to kill Sparks.
When the verdict was read Wednesday, Binkerd showed little emotion. At one point he turned toward his family and put a finger to his lips in an attempt to quiet their grieving.
During closing arguments, Jones identified Jason Cowdell, also known as Flaco, as the one who told Alvey to shoot Sparks.
"It's more than maybe that Jason Cowdell should be sitting here [on trial for murder]. Not Josh Binkerd."
Cowdell was called as a witness by the prosecution but refused to testify, citing his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
After the trial Wednesday evening, Wasatch County Attorney Scott Sweat refused to comment when asked if charges would be filed against anyone else in the Sparks murder.