On the Site:


Judge sends Utahn to prison for ‘unconscionable’ murder of his wife as kids tried stopping him

Aug 10, 2023, 12:45 PM

Family and friends of the late Utahna Halona wait in a court hallway on Wednesday prior to the sent...

Family and friends of the late Utahna Halona wait in a court hallway on Wednesday prior to the sentencing of her husband, John Erickson, who pleaded guilty to her murder. (Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)

(Emily Ashcraft, KSL.com)

SALT LAKE CITY — A father was ordered Wednesday to spend at least 15 years and up to life in prison for brutally killing his wife, Utahna Halona, in their Midvale home in 2020.

At one point while John West Erickson Jr. was stabbing her, their two young children — then ages 7 and 11 — were in the room and tried to stop him.

Utahna Halona’s mother, Shirlee Silversmith, who has custody of the children, told the judge the children were severely impacted. Just when she thinks her granddaughter is getting better, she will have more nightmares; and her grandson is always playing in his mind the things he witnessed.

The late woman’s siblings and stepfather spoke, as well, about the broader impact the woman’s life and untimely death has had on them and their extended family.

The courtroom and an overflow room in the Matheson Courthouse were full of people wearing shirts stating: “Justice for Utahna” and “Forever in our hearts.”

“She is the peacemaker. She is the one that would always bring us together and give us the strength to smile and laugh,” Silversmith said. She said her daughter, who is full Navajo, is now part of the statistics of murdered and missing indigenous women — one she does not want to be ignored.

Erickson, 44, pleaded guilty on June 5 to murder, a first-degree felony. Three other charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal, including child abuse, a second-degree felony, and two counts of domestic violence in the presence of a child, a third-degree felony.

Judge Richard McKelvie told Erickson he was ordering the maximum sentence available.

“Mr. Erickson, you deserve to go to prison — what you did here was unconscionable.

“You took the life not only of your wife, but you took the life of your wife while she was in the process of trying to save yours. If you had allowed her to be successful, she would still be here and we wouldn’t be (here). I hope you understand that,” McKelvie said.

The judge said he hopes it will be a long time before Erickson is considered for parole, but when it does happen, that Erickson will have prepared himself to become a productive member of society.

Erickson’s attorney, Brenda Viera, said her client decided to accept the plea deal to spare his children from needing to testify about serious and private matters at a jury trial. She said after he saw the plan for upcoming hearings, he asked to go ahead with the plea.

Erickson had his hands and feet cuffed and showed little emotion during Wednesday’s hearing. He choose not to speak, but Viera read a statement from him that said, “My most heartfelt and sincere apologies go to the victims.”

His statement went on to say he hopes to spare the victims from pain by taking full responsibility, which is the only way he can help those who lost their mother, daughter, sister and friend.

Deputy Salt Lake County attorney Morgan Vedejs said the pre-sentence report indicates that Erickson said “someone” tried to stop him from hurting himself and he stabbed her back. She questioned why he said “someone.”

“It was his wife, the mother of his children and he cannot say her name,” Vedejs said.

Victims still grieving

Halona’s younger sister Desiree Raulston said the night she learned her sister had been killed — Oct. 28, 2020 — was the worst night of her life. The situation, she said, was an “entirely different monster” from other deaths with which she has dealt.

“What was left in my already broken heart has been shattered,” she said.

Multiple siblings spoke on how they heard about their sister’s death via phone calls and what they did to support each other and the children that evening.

Utahna Halona with her two children in a family photo. This photo was on T-shirts worn by many family members and friends at a hearing on Wednesday where her husband was sentenced to prison for her murder.
Utahna Halona with her two children in a family photo. This photo was on T-shirts worn by many family members and friends at a hearing on Wednesday where her husband was sentenced to prison for her murder. (Photo: Family photo)

Leigh Vornkahl, another sister, said, “I have never felt so much anger and hate, and I’m so broken.”

She talked about the children crying and asking “why” when they were told at the hospital that their mom had died, and she had no answers for them. She said it “was heart-breaking and gut-wrenching.”

Vornkahl talked about going to dress her sister for burial and seeing all of the cuts on her body.

“This is not an accident that John made — one cut may have been an accident. But all the cuts, the depth of what he did to her was horrific,” she said. “He took her beautiful soul away from us. Nothing is the same without Utahna.”

Vornkahl decorates her sister’s grave every month, because her sister loved holidays and decorations.

She said she never heard Halona say anything negative about her husband, and Utahna Halona stood by her husband while he was in and out of rehabilitation for alcohol abuse.

“I don’t know how a person could do such a horrible thing to someone who loved and supported him,” Vornkahl said.

The victim’s brother, Michael Halona, said Erickson didn’t use a kitchen knife as the weapon, but a hunting knife. He directed his statements towards the parole board that might look at the case in the future, and said the impact on their family will last forever.

Kent Weight, Utahna Halona’s stepfather, said he raised her from the time she was 2. He said she was “the family peacemaker” and a loving sister in a blended family. He said she was killed by “the very person who shouldn’t have been able to comprehend such an act — her own husband, father of her children, the person who she should have been able to depend on and rely on.”

Weight said Erickson stabbed Utahna Halona repeatedly, as she and the children begged for her life. Sending her children to run for help saved their lives and showed she was still more concerned about her children than anything else, he said, adding that Erickson has not shown any remorse.

He asked the judge to impose a sentence that did not allow for parole, so that the two children would never need to come into contact with their father outside of prison.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

police lights...

Eliza Pace

One dead in Sandy shooting by US Marshal’s taskforce

A person was shot and killed by a U.S. Marshal's task force at Silver Pines Senior Community Friday afternoon.

29 minutes ago

Weber State University Main Campus (KSL TV)...

Luke Seaver

Utah System of Higher Education moves to scrap in-state college application fees

The Utah Board of Higher Education voted Friday to eliminate in-state college application fees, according to a press release from Trisha Dugovic, director of communication for the Utah System of Higher Education.

1 hour ago

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Karah Brackin

Dozens of Utah companies aim to bring Santa to thousands of families with Operation: Santa’s Stash

Right now, dozens of Utah companies are coming together to make Christmas happen with the goal of serving 10,000 families in the state.

4 hours ago

(Salt Lake City Police Department)...

Eliza Pace

Driver injured after high speed crash in SLC neighborhood, hitting two cars

A driver was injured in a high-speed crash in the East Liberty Park Neighborhood, hitting two parked cars. 

6 hours ago

emergency lights...

Pat Reavy, KSL.com

2 officers injured, 1 man arrested following lengthy chase in Utah County

Two police officers suffered minor injuries while trying to arrest a man who refused to pull over early Friday, hit a parked car and then ran from officers.

7 hours ago

Zeke Gregory Best and his father, Jeremy Albert Best are shown. Idaho State Police issued an Amber ...

Josh Ellis

Idaho Amber Alert issued after mother found dead, father allegedly abducts 10-month-old son

Authorities are searching for a 48-year-old man they say killed his wife in Teton County, Idaho, and fled the area with their 10-month-old son Friday morning.

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Design mockup half in white and half in color of luxury house interior with open plan living room a...

Lighting Design

Lighting Design 101: Learn the Basics

These lighting design basics will help you when designing your home, so you can meet both practical and aesthetic needs.

an antler with large horns int he wilderness...

Three Bear Lodge

Yellowstone in the Fall: A Wildlife Spectacle Worth Witnessing

While most people travel to this park in the summer, late fall in Yellowstone provides a wealth of highlights to make a memorable experience.

a diverse group of students raising their hands in a classroom...

Little Orchard Preschool

6 Benefits of Preschool for Kids

Some of the benefits of preschool for kids include developing independence, curiosity, and learning more about the world.

Judge sends Utahn to prison for ‘unconscionable’ murder of his wife as kids tried stopping him