Utah's 'goblin topplers' plead guilty to misdemeanor charges
Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
CASTLE DALE — Glenn Tuck Taylor and David Benjamin Hall were having fun.
You could see it in the huge smiles plastered on their faces, in Taylor's impression of a muscle-flexing strongman, in their hoots and hollers that followed the toppling of a prehistoric rock formation inside Goblin Valley State Park.
"We have now modified Goblin Valley," Hall crowed in a cellphone video he later uploaded to YouTube. "A new Goblin Valley exists!"
The smiles, cheers and high-fives were missing Tuesday, though, when both men pleaded guilty to reduced criminal charges for the Oct. 11 incident that made them internationally infamous.
Taylor, 45, had been charged with criminal mischief, a third-degree felony, for pushing over the rock formation, known as a "hoodoo." He pleaded guilty to attempted criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor, as part of a deal with Emery County prosecutors.
Hall, 42, was charged with aiding or abetting criminal mischief, also a third-degree felony. Prosecutors asked a judge to reduce the charge to attempting to aid or abet criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor, in exchange for Hall's plea.
"These are some good men who made a mistake, and they've owned up to it and hopefully we can get past it now," said defense attorney Scott Card, who represented Taylor. Hall represented himself in court.
As part of the agreement, the Highland men's guilty pleas will be held in abeyance for one year. They must each pay a $925 court-mandated plea in abeyance fee, have no new violations of the law in the next 12 months, and must make restitution to the state in an amount still to be determined.
"At this point, I'm not going to give you the range, but it's thousands of dollars, not hundreds," Card said.
Taylor and Hall, who were at Goblin Valley State Park leading a group of Boy Scouts, have said they pushed the hoodoo over because they feared it might fall on other visitors. It's a worry they almost immediately voiced in the YouTube video.
"Some little kid was about ready to walk down here and die, and Glenn saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way," Hall said into the camera. "It's all about saving lives here at Goblin Valley!"
The video, which lasts about a minute, went viral after it was shared on social media. Soon, the men began receiving death threats and hate mail. The Boy Scouts of America also dismissed them as Scout leaders.
Card said the men quickly realized they should have contacted a state park ranger about their safety concerns rather than taking matters into their own hands.
"(Taylor has) admitted again and again that the appropriate behavior would have been to report the danger," Card said.
The incident led Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, to sponsor a bill during the recently concluded legislative session that would have instituted harsher penalties for those who damaged, stole, altered or otherwise defaced geologic features or formations managed and owned by Utah State Parks and Recreation.
A House panel shelved the bill in February, effectively killing it.
In court Tuesday, prosecutor Brent Langston said the value of the damaged hoodoo had been set at "more than $1,500, but less than $5,000" for the purpose of the plea bargains. After the hearing, he acknowledged there is no way to put a price tag on the delicately balanced rock formations that give Goblin Valley its name.
Still, the prosecutor pointed out, neither Taylor nor Hall are "hardened criminals" whose offenses would warrant prison or jail time.
"The feeling I've gotten from the people in this community is that they want them held accountable for what they did, but we don't need to throw the book at them," Langston said.
Asked whether he felt justice had been served in the case, Langston responded, "Sure."
Taylor and Hall have been deeply affected by the negative attention their actions have received over the past five months, Card said. He doesn't expect they'll do anything similar in the future, and said he hopes Taylor can eventually return to his role as a Scout leader.
"We're going to see what we can do to make some restitution to (the Boy Scouts of America) and get in their good graces again," Card said. "The Scout Law says Scouts are kind. We hope they'll be kind to him."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: GeoffLiesik; DNewsCrimeTeam
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