LOCAL NEWS

Hunter High shooter gets juvenile detention for killing 2 students; case now closed

Dec 5, 2022, 7:38 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2022, 6:47 pm
Officials with the Unified Police Department said a man has been taken into custody in connection w...
Officials with the Unified Police Department said a man has been taken into custody in connection with a possible abduction near Hunter High School.

SALT LAKE CITY — The teen who shot and killed two Hunter High students and injured a third nearly a year ago was sentenced Monday to serve in juvenile detention until he’s 21. The shooter will not have his case transferred to adult court.

The Jan. 13 shooting took place near the end of the lunch period on 4100 S. Mountain View Corridor, killing 15-year-old Paul Tahi and 14-year-old Tivani Lopati, and severely injuring 15-year-old Ephraim Asiata.

It created chaos around Hunter High School, and shook the school and Pacific Islander communities.

Court proceedings swiftly began to play out for the 15-year-old suspect, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, in the form of murder charges and a desire expressed by the state to take the case to adult court.

“An adult who committed the same offense would be in prison probably for the rest of his life,” said Greg Skordas, KSL legal analyst and attorney not connected to the case.

But not so for this teen. Instead, the case was resolved in court Monday morning, with the teen admitting to killing Lopati and Tahi, and being sentenced to juvenile detention.

In juvenile court, charges are “admitted” to, rather than someone entering a plea.

“He admitted — essentially pled guilty — to two counts of manslaughter instead of murder, and the adult case was dismissed. So he’s not going to be prosecuted in the adult court,” Skordas explained.

Based on how the legal proceedings played out, Skordas believed this to be a compromise.

Skordas wondered if that was because the teen’s attorney said they planned to argue self-defense. According to court documents, the suspect told police he and his friends were being harassed by other students and the two groups got into a fight.

15-year-old accused of fatal shootings near Hunter High to argue self-defense

“It appears that what happened today was that there was a bridge, there was a meeting of the minds, a plea bargain if you will, to keep the case in juvenile court — but to have him admit the charges and not proceed with his self-defense argument,” Skordas said.

The prosecution would have to argue why it wasn’t self-defense, and Skordas said perhaps prosecutors didn’t want to risk losing the case altogether.

“There seems to be a recognition by the state that he had at least had an arguable claim to self-defense, this bullying that had happened to him, and some recognition that there may have been some merit to that,” he said.

Community rallies around families of Hunter High teens killed, injured in shooting

The teen will now go to juvenile detention and is expected to be released as a 21-year-old adult. When he is released, the deaths of the two boys will not be something people can easily search in his past.

“These are juvenile adjudications,” Skordas said. “So, he won’t have an adult record. He won’t have a felony on his record.”

Skordas said juvenile proceedings are generally not open to the public, so it would be hard for an employer or certain schools or careers to find that record because it’ll be private and confidential.

In admitting to the two charges of manslaughter and one charge of discharge of a firearm, all other charges were dismissed in court Monday.

Hunter High focuses on violence prevention, healing following deadly shooting

Two days later, on Dec. 7, the family of Tivani Lopati, one of the victims in the shooting, released a statement via their family spokesperson, Jake Fitisemanu Jr. It reads in full:

The last 72 hours have been excruciating for our family. On Monday, we listened in disbelief as our son’s shooter admitted to reduced charges and was sentenced to juvenile detention. While we would not want any other family to go through the loss of a child, we are greatly disappointed with the leniency of the sentence, which is not proportional to the gravity of the crime that was committed. While the court may have ruled that this case is closed, this miscarriage of justice has not provided us with any closure.

We miss Tivani. We cry every day, but the full extent of our pain and heartbreak is not visible. We feel let down by a system that has not carried out justice. We feel mistreated by court staff who made us feel as if our grieving family was an unwelcome threat within the courtroom. We cannot help but feel that the legal proceedings would have been conducted differently, and that the outcome of this case would have been different, if Tivani, Paula, and Ephraim had been white, or upper class, or lived in a neighborhood on the other side of the valley.

While we are deeply saddened and disappointed with the systems that failed to deliver justice for our son, we continue to advocate for action and investment to proactively address issues with a focus on prevention, rather than reacting to violence when it’s too late. We will never stop fighting for justice, for our son, for Paula, Ephraim, and on behalf of all families who live with the unimaginable trauma of having their child’s life taken without justice being served.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Students at Juan Diego Catholic School (KSL-TV)...
Michael Locklear

Private schools celebrate state funding, expect ‘significant uptick in enrollment’

Utah’s private schools are celebrating that they’ll receive state funding for the first time through a new school choice program.
1 day ago
FILE PHOTO (KSL TV)...
Michael Houck

Passenger dead after attempting to move crashed truck on SR-89

A passenger was fatally hit by a trailer after a car crashed into it Friday night, according to Utah Highway Patrol
1 day ago
One the of climbers in the training camp climbing a wall. (KSL-TV's Alex Cabrero)...
Alex Cabrero

USA Climbing Camp for Paris 2024 begins in Salt Lake City

As the Summer 2024 Olympic Games draws closer, those athletes looking to participate begin their training. 
1 day ago
The large herd of about 60 elk near the mouth of Parley's Canyon on Thursday. (Utah Department of W...
Michael Houck

DWR officials warn of migrating elk entering Salt Lake City

A migrating herd of approximately 60 elk is causing problems for residents and drivers near the mouth of Parley's Canyon.
1 day ago
Former longtime Murray Mayor Dan Snarr is photographed on Dec. 13, 2013. Snarr, 73, was charged Thu...
Pat Reavy

Former Murray mayor accused of spitting in driver’s face in road rage case

The former longtime mayor of Murray has been charged with spitting in the face of another driver during a road rage incident.
1 day ago
Handcuffs in a jail cell FILE PHOTO (Ravell Call/Deseret News)...
Pat Reavy

Sandy man threatened to kill parents after shooting TVs, police say

A Sandy man was charged Friday with shooting two televisions and threatening to kill his parents and go on a killing spree.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hunter High shooter gets juvenile detention for killing 2 students; case now closed