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Teen charged with killing two students could utilize new self-defense law

Aug 24, 2022, 10:03 PM | Updated: Aug 25, 2022, 5:41 am

Today a judge ruled the case against the accused teen gunman will move forward. But it might not ever go to trial because of a new Utah law.

A new self-defense law was created last year which shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors, which makes it much harder to convict someone of a crime. In a preliminary hearing Wednesday, the boy’s defense team said they don’t dispute charges, but say they want to use the new law.

On Oct. 5 and 6, the judge will determine at a justification hearing if he considers the actions of the 15-year-old on Jan. 13 as self-defense.

As it stands now, the 15-year-old faces murder charges in the deaths of Paul Tahi and Tivani Lopati, while he faces less serious charges for shooting Ephraim Asiata.  The accused shooter also faces obstruction of justice and weapons charges. Asiata has undergone several surgeries, including organ transplants.

Detective Bryan Haywood with the West Valley City Police Department took the stand as a witness at the preliminary hearing. He was working that day and recalled seeing the bodies of Tahi and Lopati. He also visited Asiata in the hospital two weeks later for questioning.

KSL TV is not naming the suspect because he’s a juvenile. But his attorneys say they will now approach the case under the new self-defense law, saying he complied with officers the day of the shooting and feared for his life.

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas says the new law makes it much for difficult for prosecutors, who now have the burden of proof in proving suspects didn’t act in self-defense. Utah has long recognized self-defense in cases, but the new law means an attorney can try to have a charged dismissed in the “justification hearing” before a case goes to trial or in front of a jury.

The law has faced scrutiny as some believe it helps criminals get off due to a loophole, re-traumatizing victims’ families.

If the judge determines the teen acted in self-defense, it will be the first juvenile case of its kind here in Utah.

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Teen charged with killing two students could utilize new self-defense law