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Man who attacked BYU student, then married her, gets 6 days in jail

Published: Monday, June 24 2013 4:20 p.m. MDT

Juan Alberto Leiva — who attacked his ex-girlfriend, then married her days before his trial — was sentenced Monday to serve six days in jail. His wife revealed Monday that she is now pregnant. Prosecutors said they pursued the case to send a message about the dangers of domestic violence, particularly among college students, and that such crimes will be prosecuted even if the victim isn't cooperative.

Utah County Jail

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PROVO — A man accused of kidnapping and assaulting his ex-girlfriend before then marrying her just days before his trial was ordered Monday to serve less than a week in jail.

Juan Alberto Leiva, 24, who pleaded guilty in April to aggravated assault, a second-degree felony, was sentenced to one to 15 years in prison, but 4th District Judge Samuel McVey suspended the prison term in favor of six days in jail, 204 days of GPS monitoring and three years' probation. Leiva was also ordered to undergo anger management counseling.

In April, prosecutor Craig Johnson called the wedding a "sham" and said Leiva married the woman — despite a no-contact order — to keep her from testifying against him at trial.

It was revealed Monday during the hearing that the woman is pregnant.

"That seemed to turn the tide with the judge and that was new information to the state as well," Johnson said.

Leiva did not address the judge, but his wife did. She said the couple's relationship "wasn't as mature" as it should have been at the time of the crime, that they are now in counseling and that she loves her husband very much.

Leiva was originally facing charges of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and assault, a class B misdemeanor, in the June 9, 2012, incident in which he attacked and stripped his ex-girlfriend, a BYU student, after learning she had gone out with another man. Johnson said the fact that this took place in public, along 900 East in Provo, left him wary as to whether Leiva would comply with other laws and probation conditions.

"From the beginning, this case was very concerning to us as not only did he attack his girlfriend, but an innocent bystander intervened and he pushed him away while he was tackling the girlfriend," Johnson said. "Then we found out this relationship had been going on for several months before and there were at least three other incidents of a similar nature."

Though the victim apparently told police that she did not want anything to happen to Leiva and that she did not want him to go to jail, she still met with prosecutors and testified at Leiva's preliminary hearing last year. The day the case was to go to trial, it was revealed that the couple had married just a few days before, even though a court order required them to stay away from each other.

Johnson said the move gave the victim marital privilege, meaning she couldn't be asked to testify against her husband.

"The victim decided to marry the defendant on the advice of some attorneys," Johnson said. "That was problematic and the state stuck to its guns and said, 'We're still going forward to trial' and so (Leiva) went ahead and pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony despite his attorney asking for a misdemeanor for months and months."

But defense attorney Dean Zabriskie said he never tried to use the marriage "for any beneficial result in this case."

"They married each other because they loved each other, and I don't know that either attorney was in favor of that, but certainly nature took its course and they're happily married now and looking forward to the future," Zabriskie said. "We're pleased with the outcome of this case. This has been very difficult for our client and the other parties involved, especially our client's wife now."

Zabriskie said the couple has a lot of family support. "We have a lot of hope for the future for these young people. Hopefully something has been learned," he said.

Johnson described the case as "very dynamic, unique" and said it was prosecuted to send a message about domestic violence, even if the victim didn't want to cooperate. He said there are a large number of students in dating relationships in Utah County, many of them from out of state and without local connections.

He said it's possible for these relationships to lead to violence and for the victims to return to the abusers because they feel helpless and rely on them as friends. Police reports indicate Leiva took the woman, a 20-year-old student at the time, against her will four times between Christmas of 2011 and June of 2012. In each instance, the man allegedly yelled at the woman before ripping her clothing. Leiva was a computer science student at Utah Valley University at the time.

"Our office sees this on a regular basis and we take these cases very seriously," Johnson said. "So if you are abusing someone, if you are committing domestic violence, we will prosecute you no matter if the victim is going to cooperate or not."

Leiva was given credit for the three days he had previously spent in jail. He was ordered to report to the Utah County Jail to serve the remaining three days of his sentence on June 28.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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