Teen who murdered man when just 14 will spend decades behind bars
Scott Sommerdorf, Scott Sommerdorf
SALT LAKE CITY — Antonie Hunter Farani was only 14 years old when he murdered JoJo Brandstatt in February of 2009.
But his youth did not justify, explain or alleviate what he did.
"A 14-year-old doesn't think like a 25-year-old. Nevertheless, we all acknowledge it was a horrible, horrible crime," 3rd District Judge William Barrett said Friday. "Mr. Hunter, you are still a young man, but you're going to go away for a very long time."
The teenager will likely be close to 50 before he is considered for parole.
Barrett sentenced Farani, who is now 17, to 20 years to life in prison for aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and 15 years to life in prison for two counts of aggravated kidnapping, also a first-degree felony. Barrett ordered that the two 15 years to life terms run concurrent to each other, but consecutive to the murder sentence.
The judge said he will recommend that Farani be given credit for the three years he has spent in custody.
He looks like a man now. He is tall and solemn and when he spoke, it was with a voice that was deep and confident.
"Your honor, I can't tell you how sorry I am for taking JoJo away from his family," Farani said. "I was so stupid, selfish, mean and insecure. I didn't care about anyone by myself."
He said he would trade places with Brandstatt if he could. He apologized to the victim's family and to his own family. He said he was just trying to act tough.
"What I did was the worst possible thing I could have ever done," he said. "I hope and pray they can forgive me for what I have done."
Brandstatt's mother, Elka Fernandez, thanked Farani for meeting with her last week and for being so honest when she asked him about the night he shot and killed her son. Then, she asked that he use her son's death not as an excuse, but as motivation to be better.
"I truly, truly hope that you let this inspire you to be a better person and that you save someone's life," she said. "I really hope, for your mother's sake, that whatever time you do is positive and productive."
JoJo Brandstatt was also young, just 18, when he was shot three times execution-style and murdered on a West Valley golf course, reportedly because Farani didn't like that he was wearing a red shirt — the color of a rival gang. But Brandstatt was a sweet, caring person who never would have hurt anyone, his mother said.
"I miss his laugh," Fernandez said. "I miss his hugs. I am so honored to be his mother, even if his murder almost killed me. I feel those three shots every day."
Farani and three others had kidnapped one man who led them to Brandstatt in the hopes that the teenager would have money. That man, Gregory Brown, escaped after the group forced him to rob a convenience store. He also spoke to Farani in court Friday.
"I want you to know that, the first year, I felt so much hate toward you and I wanted revenge," he said, adding that his feelings toward the man later changed. "I forgive you. I really do. It makes me sad that you were so young when you did this. You took their son's life and that's a hard thing."
He asked Farani to change his life and try to help those around him. Brown wished Farani the best and turned to the judge.
"He was young." he said. "I just ask that you be fair. This is a horrible thing, this murder. Just know that I forgive him."
Farani's attorney, Richard Van Wagoner, said his client confessed early on to Brandstatt's death, accepted responsibility and opted against going to trial in an effort to spare Brandstatt's family pain. He also pointed to his client's young age and asked for concurrent sentences.
"Hunter, at the time this occurred, was 14 years and 2 months old," Van Wagoner said. "That doesn't excuse his conduct, but it might explain some of it."
But prosecutor Stephen Nelson said Farani's age was one mitigating factor in a case rife with an "overwhelming amount of aggravating circumstances."
"He was the leader," Nelson said of Farani. "In the course of my career ... I've seen few crimes as heinous as this."
After the hearing, Fernandez wept and embraced Farani's family and encouraged them to stick together. This was the last case she had yet to see resolved.
"This has been such a battle spiritually, emotionally and physically," she said. "There were times I have wanted to kill myself, but I've come to see forgiveness doesn't depend on other people.
"I feel like God has walked with me. It's probably because JoJo was up there, 'Hey, could you go help my Mom?'"
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