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He 'left her to die alone,' judge says in ordering Springville man to stand trial for rape

Published: Friday, Feb. 18 2011 6:16 p.m. MST

Shawn Michael Leonard is led from the courtroom after a preliminary hearing in Provo's 4th District Court on Friday, Feb. 18, 2011.

Mark Johnston,

PROVO — A Springville man accused of brutally raping a young woman and leaving her for dead near the Provo River Trail, was ordered to stand trial Friday. 

"I find he strangled her, left her to die alone and she would have died without medical intervention," 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock said before binding Shawn Leonard over on all of the charges against him.

Leonard, 34, is charged with attempted aggravated murder, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping, all first-degree felonies, in connection with the June 2010 incident. He is also facing first-degree felony charges of aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping in connection with a robbery on the same day of the attack; and escape from official custody, a third-degree felony, in the escape from a jail work-release program.

The alleged crimes occurred after Leonard failed to return from a lunch break on his second day of work-release.

A preliminary hearing for the two cases was held simultaneously. On Friday, the judge heard testimony from DNA analyst Scott Walton who said DNA was found from both Leonard and the alleged rape victim on a black shoelace used in the subsequent robbery.

A 19-year-old woman earlier testified that she was walking along the Provo River Trail near her apartment complex on June 9, 2010, when Leonard grabbed her and pulled her into some bushes alongside the trail. She said Leonard initially demanded money, but when she said she didn't have any, the man to told her to face away from him so he could run away. Instead, she said she felt a string around her neck, choking her.

The then-Utah Valley University student said she fought her attacker, but eventually blacked out, she was strangled twice and was unconscious for as many as three hours. Police believe her face was smashed with both a rock and part of a cement cinder block. When she came to, her pants and underwear were around her knees and other clothing was pushed out of place. She was able to crawl back to the trail where she was able to get help from some passing bystanders. 

The woman lost six teeth at the scene and two more later, which were removed because they were so badly damaged. She was in the hospital for two weeks and underwent several surgeries in the months that followed. Her jaw was broken and had to be wired shut.

Laycock noted in court that multiple doctors said the woman could have died from swelling to the brain or decreased oxygen levels caused by the swelling of her throat and face, but she survived due to "her sheer force of will."

Leonard was on some "long, huge crime episode" that June day, said prosecutor Donna Kelly. After he left the woman at the river trail, he went to a nearby shopping center and forced the lone employee into a back room, where he demanded she give him her debit card, PIN number and car keys, she said. He allegedly bound her with a black shoelace, but she was able to free herself and call authorities. 

The woman who was attacked was at Friday's hearing with her family. Kelly said she was "very pleased" with the judge's decision. 

"The thing the family wants is for the case to move forward without a lot of delay," she said. "We're going to push for the court to keep this on track."

She said prosecutors do not plan on offering any sort of plea deal to Leonard and will urge the judge to keep the attempted murder and aggravated robbery charges connected, though filed separately, because they took place hours apart and so the victims will only have to endure one trial.

Kelly said the evidence in the case is "overwhelming" and said prosecutors intend to seek a sentence of life in prison without parole. In addition to the DNA evidence, Leonard's jail identification anklet was found in the Provo River and both of the alleged victims identified him in court.

Leonard's next court appearance is scheduled for March 16. 

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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