The aftermath: Reminders of daughter's death still weigh heavily 2 years later

Mother calls for victims' rights as she waits on judicial process

Published: Sunday, Dec. 9 2012 5:25 p.m. MST

Ellen Hensley, right, mother of the slain Jerrica Christensen, speaks with her daughter Kimberly Millsap about the family's painful ordeal and legal battles in her Leeds home, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

LEEDS, Washington County — For the longest time, Ellen Hensley dreaded 11:15 a.m. on Saturdays. It was at that exact time two years ago tomorrow when a St. George police officer came to her door.

"I immediately knew this was bad, so much I couldn't even unlock the door I was shaking so bad. I knew something was terribly wrong. His first words to me were, 'Your daughter Jerrica was murdered last night.' And my world stopped. It ended.

"You know the movie 'Alice in Wonderland,' where she falls down the hole? That's what I felt like. I had nothing to grab onto. I was just falling and had no idea where I'd land,” Hensley said.

"Fifteen after 11 is embedded in my brain. Every Saturday since then, 15 minutes after 11 in the morning I look at my watch and think about (the officer's) words. I used to love Saturdays, and for the very longest time I absolutely dreaded going to bed Friday nights because I had so much fear of Saturday — re-living it again."

Saturdays aren’t the only residual casualties of her daughter’s death. Hensley has a couple of Christmas decorations put up around her house, but not because she is feeling the Christmas spirit.

"I wanted to pretend to be Christmasty," she conceded.

In reality, the holiday season today brings more pain than joy to Hensley because it, too, re-opens wounds that have yet to be given time to heal.

"It's just not the season for me. Somebody is missing and that just isn't right. And it was Jerrica's favorite holiday," Hensley said. "She made Christmas in our house. With her gone it's just hard to feel it. And it's hard to get people to understand we're not being 'Bah humbug.' It's just a hard time of year for me."

Slow process

Jerrica Christensen, 20, and Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden, 27, were both killed about 3:15 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2010, inside a Main Street apartment in St. George. James Fiske, 28, was shot during the same incident but survived. Less than an hour afterward, police had one man in custody and a second was arrested less than 24 hours later. 

Paul Ashton, 33, and Brandon Smith, 31, were each charged with aggravated murder and aggravated assault. Ashton is accused of shooting Jerden and also shooting Fiske. Smith is accused of killing Christensen. She died as a "result of incised wounds," but investigators have not indicated what type of weapon was used.

Despite the quick arrests, the court process has been slow. Neither man has even had a preliminary hearing yet. This as the two-year anniversary of the girls' deaths comes up on Tuesday. Twice a preliminary hearing has been set, and twice it has been postponed. A third date for the hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 19.

"It's frustrating. It's very frustrating. We're anchored to the past. ... How do you move forward when you're constantly pulled backwards? You can't," said Hensley. "The frustrating thing is we don't have rights. That's the hard part. My daughter lost her rights that night.

“When that man did what he did to her, which is still very tender to us — he brutally murdered her in cold blood for no reason other than the fact she could have testified. It's hard to go to court and listen to them defend his rights and I sit there and think, 'What about my rights?'"

Now, Hensley hopes that she, her daughter and the other victims won't be forgotten as they try and patiently wait for the legal process to move forward.

Dec. 11, 2010

On the night Christensen was killed, she was supposed to stay home and help her mother bake Christmas cookies. Instead, she went to be with her boyfriend — something Hensley was angry about. Before she died, Christensen and her mother texted each other and made up. She told her mom about a restaurant they needed to try. She then told her mother to pick her up in the morning.

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