PROVO — An American Fork man accused of shooting and killing his 5-month-old son appeared somber and distant to some observers as he made his first appearance in court Monday.
Joshua David Petersen, 21, was charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, in Provo's 4th District Court on Friday. He is accused of shooting his son, Ryker, in his house and was about to take his own life before other family members stopped him. Investigators say Petersen had planned the murder for about a month.
A charge of aggravated murder gives prosecutors the option of seeking the death penalty if Petersen is convicted. A decision on whether the state will pursue the death penalty option won't be made for a couple of months.
After the hearing, defense attorney Dusty Kawai said Petersen's somber mood was genuine.
"What I think you are seeing is just the physical evidence of how devastated he is. He calls me and he is just bawling. He is weeping. I've seen a lot of very sad people in my career and his is at the top of this list."
Kawai said Petersen was taking medication for depression prior to the shooting, but declined Monday to talk about a possible defense strategy. Petersen is currently on suicide watch at the Utah County Jail.
"If we were to talk to him about the facts of the case right now, it would spiral him even further down. And so right now we just want to get him stabilized mentally," Kawai said.
Petersen's family attended Monday's initial hearing and wiped away tears afterward.
"His family is mourning. They loved Josh's son, and Josh loved his son, and this is just a tragic, tragic situation," Kawai said.
On Monday, Petersen was officially informed of the charge he faces and the potential penalties. If convicted, he could face the death penalty, life without the possibility of parole, or 25 years to life in prison.
His next scheduled court hearing is April 29.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company