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St. George man pleads guilty in 2010 double homicide

Published: Thursday, July 18 2013 2:40 p.m. MDT

Paul Ashton, charged with aggravated murder, appears for a status review at the 5th District Court on Wednesday, April 5, 2011.

Adam Metcalf, Adam Metcalf/SUN News

ST. GEORGE — For the second time in as many months, a St. George man has admitted his part in the death of another.

Paul Clifford Ashton, 34, pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder, both first-degree felonies; and possession or use of a controlled substance, a third-degree felony, in 5th District Court, according to his attorney, Douglas Terry. A second aggravated murder count was dismissed in exchange for Ashton's plea.

Ashton and Brandon Smith, 31, are accused of killing Jerrica Christensen, 20, and Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden, 27, on Dec. 11, 2010, inside a Main Street apartment in St. George. James Fiske, 28, was shot during the same incident but survived. Christensen reportedly had been asked by Fiske to help Jerden move that night. Somehow, the three ended up at Ashton's apartment, where Jerden was shot while Christensen hid in a bathroom.

Investigators believe Smith attacked Christensen "with the intent to prevent her from testifying" about the shootings, according to an arrest warrant. Smith assaulted Christensen "at the direction of Paul Ashton," the warrant states.

Terry said Ashton pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in connection with Jerden's death.

This plea came on the heels of Ashton pleading guilty to aiding and abetting in both a kidnapping resulting in death and use and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence in U.S. District Court in May. As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors will ask that Ashton serve a sentence of life in prison for the events that played out when Bradley Eitner, 43, was taken from Ashton's home in St. George on Halloween 2010.

According to court documents, Ashton banged Eitner's head against a door frame and the tailgate of a truck before striking him with a rock and taking him, with an accomplice, to Arizona where Eitner was shot by the accomplice and pushed off an embankment. Eitner’s body was discovered March 11, 2011, and an autopsy determined he died from blunt force head trauma and a single gunshot wound to the head.

Terry said Ashton's plea agreement in federal court led to the resolution in the state court system.

"He's going to be serving a life sentence in the federal case, and the plea agreement we entered into will make it possible for him to serve any sentence in the state case concurrently with his federal sentence," the attorney said. "The state knows he's going to be in prison for the rest of his life."

Ashton's sentencing in both cases has been scheduled for Aug. 6.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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