SALT LAKE CITY — The body of 26-year-old Chesney Hansen was found 22 feet below a Sugar House hotel balcony on Jan. 8, 2000.
Ten years passed before anyone was arrested in his death and it took 12 before that man would be ordered to prison for the murder.
"I've had a deep yearning for closure for many, many years," Julie Hansen, the victim's mother, told a judge Friday. "How do you make up someone's life? How do you make up the time?"
"This is a case that has taken quite a while to resolve," defense attorney Rudy Bautista, echoed. "This is a horrible incident that affected many people's lives."
Third District Judge Vernice Trease handed down the maximum sentence possible for David McNeill — zero to five years in prison for homicide by assault, a third-degree felony, to be served consecutive to the zero to five years McNeill is already serving on a drug possession charge. Trease cited McNeill's criminal history and the loss of life for the consecutive sentence.
McNeill, Hansen and two other men were all doing drugs and partying at the Homewood Suites, 1220 E. 2100 South, when things went south over some missing money. McNeill admits that he became angry and began beating Hansen. He also told police he twice strangled the man with a belt. But he said Hansen was alive and talking about learning to fly when he left.
A toxicology report later showed that Hansen had high levels of methamphetamine in his system in addition to anti-anxiety medicines and cocaine.
Bautista contended McNeill, 42, didn't kill Hansen, yet admits that "but for his conduct, Mr. Hansen would still be alive today." He pointed out that the charge against McNeill was reduced from first-degree felony murder as part of a plea agreement.
"I don't know how to tell (Hansen's family) anything other than I mourn their loss," McNeill said. "I can't stand here and live with myself and say I did take his life — I left him alone in his distraught state. The assault I committed, ... the drugs. I wasn't going to put hands on him again. I regret this. I wish this thing hadn't gone where it went to."
One of McNeill's former roommates previously testified that the man once told him he'd gotten away with pushing someone off a balcony. Police said they talked to another man who reportedly confessed to a family member that he'd "clotheslined" Hansen, causing him to flip over the balcony.
Prosecutor Bernadette Gomez told Trease that there are questions that still linger in the case about what really happened.
"There are some things we're never going to know about this case because some of the witnesses are deceased," she said. "We were hoping to have some questions answered, but we still don't."
Julie Hansen said Friday it was difficult to lose her only son. She feels that she received a life sentence, but said she still found some comfort as Friday's hearing ended.
"I feel there's some closure and peace to this and justice has been done in his name," she said.
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