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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 5:54 p.m. MST

Ashton's past involves other violent incidents and prior felony charges. In 2007, he was shot seven times and left for dead on a back road in Ogden before being found by passers-by.

Ashton was "involved in the drug scene in Ogden. He was involved in a home invasion robbery" where a "meth lab was discovered," according to a police report obtained by the Deseret News.

He was also charged in 2010, eight months prior to being arrested in the St. George killings, with felony drug possession and possession with intent to distribute. In 2005, he was charged with two counts of felony unlawful sex with a minor. Both counts were dismissed, according to court records.

Smith, on the other hand, had a clean criminal history up until the time he was charged with murder.

But to Hensley, it was Smith who could have walked away that night leaving her daughter unharmed.

Tragedy strikes twice

Christensen is the second child Hensley has lost. Her 3-year-old son was killed in a car accident over a decade ago. Today, the headstones of Blair "Colt" Christensen and Jerrica Christensen stand next to each other in the Knarraville Cemetery. Jerrica's tombstone is decorated with the words, "Love, live, laugh, dance."

For Christensen's funeral, Hensley said she kept one more promise to her daughter. Before she died, Hensley told Jerrica she'd help her get a new car. For her casket, she picked out a "car" — a metal casket with chrome that also had wheels on the bottom.

Today, framed pictures of Christensen can be seen throughout Hensley's home. Most of them are self-portraits her daughter took with a cellphone and posted on Facebook. If not for the social media site, Hensley said she wouldn't have all the pictures of her daughter that she enjoys today.

She also has her daughter's small lap dog, Sammie. She admits she couldn't stand the animal when her daughter first brought her home.

"I don't even know what I'd do without her now. I can't even sleep unless she's in bed next to me," she said.

Christensen had an "over-the-top" personality that her mother said she connected with and that helped form a special bond between them.

"Jerrica was me born 25 years late. We were twins," she said. "We were so much alike. And so when she was gone, I didn't know who I was anymore because I couldn't watch myself anymore. She made the exact same mistakes at the exact same ages. I knew what she thought. I knew what she was always doing."

Waiting for justice

Each time a court hearing is set or re-set, Hensley said she has to mentally prepare herself for it. She compared it to pulling scabs off a wound. Twice now, she has pulled the scabs off to attend what she thought would be a hearing about her daughter's death, and twice her wounds were left exposed with no action taken.

Hensley is confident, however, the cases of the two men — who are being tried separately — will come to an end next year. And she hopes it involves plea agreements to spare her from having to re-live the brutal details of her daughter's death during both a preliminary hearing and a jury trial.

"I would love it if they would both take a plea deal and plead for life without parole. Own up, man up to what they did, especially Brandon Smith. He was raised with much better values and standards than that. He should man up and spare us, and let us put this to rest," she said.

And as the court cases against Ashton and Smith slowly move forward, Hensley hopes the victims in the case won't be forgotten.

"She was a great girl. She made some mistakes and bad choices like we all do and she learned from them. She was really resolved to make her life better.

"It's just so sad she was making her life better, then she lost her life."

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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