Prison ordered for man who shot father-in-law in church
'You shook the foundation of our entire community,' judge says
OGDEN — A man convicted of shooting his father-in-law on Father's Day as he knelt to pray in church was sentenced directly to prison Thursday rather than receiving treatment first at the Utah State Hospital.
"This was a horrendous act. You shook the foundation of our entire community," 2nd District Judge W. Brent West told Charles "Ricky" Jennings, 35, just before handing down the punishment.
Jennings shot Jim Evans, 66, at the St. James the Just Catholic Church, 495 N. Harrison Blvd., on June 16. He pleaded guilty and mentally ill in November to attempted murder and two counts of aggravated burglary, first-degree felonies.
West ordered him to serve six years to life in prison.
Deputy Weber County attorney Dean Saunders believes there's a good chance Jennings will never get out.
"Based on what he did, we think there's a good reason for the board of pardons to keep him the rest of his life. This was such a horrific crime and had such an impact on so many people," he said.
Jennings' original sentencing was postponed last month so the judge could better determine whether he should be first sent to the Utah State Hospital for treatment. West noted Thursday that both the hospital and the Department of Corrections recommended Jennings go directly to prison. Prison officials said his mental illness could be treated there. But they also noted that he has made comments since his incarceration about hurting jail staff.
"I'm left with the impression you are a danger," West said.
Evans and his wife, Tara Evans, were present in the courtroom Thursday. They each urged the judge to give him the maximum sentence. After the hearing, each expressed relief that justice had been served.
"I pray for his soul. But I hope he's kept in jail for as long as he's (a danger) to society, and I think that will be his whole life," Jim Evans said.
"I really believe with all my heart he's not getting out," added Tara Evans. "There's hope for everybody, right? But do I think it's really likely (he'll rehabilitate)? Not really. Because he's always chosen evil, he will continue to choose evil."
Jennings did not address the judge Thursday. But his defense attorney said he wanted the public to know that his client did not plead guilty but mentally ill as a way to avoid taking responsibility or to get a lighter sentence. Michael Bouwhuis said four doctors diagnosed his client as having a mental illness.
Even after being drug-free since his arrest, Jennings continued to hear voices and suffered from paranoia, schizophrenia and showed other signs of psychotic disorder, according to Bouwhuis. He said his client described feeling like he was under hypnosis at times and claimed that voices told him to shoot his father-in-law.
The judge acknowledged Jennings' mental illness and previous head injuries but blamed him for continually using drugs like methamphetamine to deal with his illness.
"I don't think the mental health issues rise to the level of any excuse or mitigation," he said.
"I think he's mentally ill, but I don't think this is due to mental illness," said Tara Evans. "I think he chose evil himself."
During the sentencing, she delivered a lengthy prepared statement. She talked about how her son-in-law was apparently thinking clearly enough that day to make sure her grandson was dropped off at a safe place first, "while he went to murder Grandpa and Grandma."
Evans believes Jennings' actions were driven by "pure anger and hatred" and not mental illness. She and her husband had tried to convince their daughter to leave him because of his abuse toward her, and that drove a wedge between Jennings and their family.
Evans said her daughter later told her the reason Jennings went to the church that day — with the "full intention of executing myself and my husband" — was because the daughter had planned on going to her parents' house after Mass to look at their vacation pictures.
The only reason her husband is alive, Evans said, is because he happened to turn his head just as Jennings pulled the trigger. The bullet went through the side of his face and mouth and not directly into his skull. The only reason she is alive, she said, is because Jennings "was confused that Jim was still standing. He was most likely wondering how he could have missed at such close range."
She added: "He shot Jim, and then he turned and aimed the gun right at my chest."
Evans also made several allegations about repeated abuse and manipulation by Jennings against her daughter and death threats he made against the family. A couple of times, Jennings — who stood looking straight ahead without emotion for most of her speech — turned and looked at Evans with a look of disbelief on his face while shaking his head.
The Rev. Erik J. Richtsteig, who was the celebrant at the altar on the day Evans was shot, recalled Jennings' actions after the hearing.
"As he's looking, he smirks at Jim and Tara. That tells me a world of what his opinion of the whole thing is. I get the feeling he feels it's a big game," he said.
Jim Evans and his family sat in the back row of the courtroom, while Jennings' family members sat in the front with a row separating the two sides. Afterward, most of Jennings' family left without making any comments to the media, but with obvious looks of anger about what was said in court.
Bouwhuis also addressed public comments he had either heard or read online expressing surprise that his client's family could show up and support him at court hearings.
"I'm not sure where that comes from," he said. "He's somebody's son. He's somebody's brother. To expect them to simply abandon him is simply unreasonable."
Jim Evans said he has physically healed from the shooting.
"You can tell my speech is a little different because I'm missing a lot of teeth. And my tongue is about twice the size it used to be because it was shredded. But I'm pretty much healed. By the end of summer I should have my teeth back again and be pretty normal. I'm back to work again, so, physically, I'm pretty good. Considering the alternative, considering what happened, I think I'm in excellent shape," he said with a smile.
Jim and Tara Evans recalled returning to the church two weeks after the shooting, once the pews had been refurbished. They both sat in the same spots where they had been on that Father's Day.
Evans got choked up as he expressed thanks to the members of his congregation who rushed to his aid and tried to apprehend Jennings.
"He's standing there with a gun. He's already proved he's not afraid to shoot. But at least a half-dozen men were rushing at him without fear for their lives. They were going to take him down so that he couldn't do anymore," he recalled.
"They rushed a guy with a loaded gun," Tara Evans added. "I mean, how brave is that? That is the ultimate in bravery."
West sentenced Jennings to four years to life for the attempted murder, and two sentences of six years to life for the aggravated robberies. He also pleaded guilty and mentally ill to an amended charge of attempted possession of a firearm by a restricted person, a class A misdemeanor. All sentences were ordered to be served concurrently.
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