It was standing room only in the small courtroom as many members of the Draper Police Department, Derek Johnson's family and other law enforcers, including Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, attended the hearing.
Walker originally wasn't even scheduled to have preliminary hearing until September. But his attorney Denise Porter said, "He has wanted to take responsibility for his conduct since the very first time I met him."
Before the sentence was announced, members of Derek Johnson's family addressed the court one by one, some fighting back tears while others openly sobbed.
"The pain of losing a son some days is unbearable. That constant heartache that becomes a part of your soul," Derek Johnson's mother, Laura Johnson, told the court. "Today is a difficult day but also a good day, giving our family some closure."
Derek Johnson's younger brother Darin Johnson said his best friend had been taken away from him.
"The evil that accompanies this will forever last in your soul. I hope you fear the day you meet your maker," he told Walker in court.
Shante Johnson, Derek Johnson's widow, struggled at first to get her words out.
"My nights are sleepless, and they will be forever," she told the court.
She then addressed Walker and told him he was doing the only right thing he could at this point.
Desirae Payne, Derek Johnson's sister, became emotional in court as she addressed Walker.
“When I first saw him today in court, I felt a very heavy sense of anger and hate, and I don’t like to harbor those feelings because it doesn’t hurt him. It hurts me," she said after the hearing. “I wanted to see him as this monster, and seeing him there, he’s not. He’s someone that was led down a bad path by his choices.
“I actually feel like his apology was genuine, and I didn’t expect that at all so it was nice to hear what he had to say and to know that he genuinely feels bad for what he did and wants to do the best he can to live as productive of a life as he can in prison," Payne said.
But she added that the feeling of closure will still take time.
“I think it’s still going to take work to get there. I definitely feel relieved. I feel like we can move on with our lives, but I think it’s going to take some work still,” Payne said.
As the courtroom was emptying out, Walker's mother left in tears. Norma Johnson, Derek Johnson’s grandmother, stopped Walker's mother in the hallway and told her, “My heart aches for you.”
“I still love him," his mother said.
Vaillancourt, meanwhile, who was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, is due back in court on July 15. Her defense attorney Matthew Kober called Walker's guilty plea a good thing for his client.
"Definitely what happens today is going to have a large impact on our strategy," said Kober, adding that he's still hopeful for a resolution in his client's case.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam
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