SALT LAKE CITY — Todd Utzinger said he doesn't take speaking ill of the dead lightly, but felt it was important for the judge to know why his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The defense attorney said Joseph Nance, 30, grew up in a home where he suffered "years of abuse" at the hands of his father, Gregory. But 2nd District Judge John Morris said nothing he heard justified Nance shooting and killing his father in a Kaysville motel on March 19, 2011.
Morris sentenced Nance Monday to two consecutive terms of one to 15 years in prison for manslaughter and obstructing justice, second-degree felonies. Nance's sister, Charity Green, erupted into sobs and left the courtroom when the judge pronounced the sentence, minutes after she had asked the judge to consider concurrent sentences for her brother.
"I have forgiven my brother and believe with all my heart that my daddy has forgiven him too," she told the judge. "I know my dad wouldn't want his only son to serve 30 years in prison."
She was no longer in the courtroom when Morris explained that the actual length of a sentence is left up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. The judge also gave Nance credit for the 420 days he has already spent in custody.
Kaysville police were called to the Far West Motel, 410 N. Main, after receiving reports that shots had been fired. They found Gregory Nance, 52, lying on the bed with multiple gunshot wounds. He died at the scene.
Joseph Nance was found about 4 a.m. the next day hiding in an underground bunker in a wooded area of Layton.
"The defendant admitted to shooting his father, claiming he did so in self-defense," charging documents state.
Utzinger said Nance had been told by his mother that Gregory Nance wanted her and her son out of the motel room. Joseph Nance went to the motel to gather his things and an argument began.
Gregory Nance started off of the bed, fists clenched and Joseph Nance "just lost it," Utzinger said. He took a .22 revolver that was in the dresser of the room and fired five rounds, four of which struck his father.
Afterward, Nance threw the gun into a river near the motel. Utzinger said he knew there was no self-defense claim when Gregory Nance was unarmed, but described the abuse Nance endured as well as the abuse he watched his father inflict on his mother and sisters in asking for concurrent sentences.
"This dysfunctional family never got the mental health treatment they probably all needed and probably still need," Utzinger said. "I think this is one of those tragic cases where no one is happy with the result here."
Joseph Nance was originally charged with murder, a first-degree felony, and possession of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony, but pleaded guilty in April to the reduced charges. Prosecutor Brandon Poll said the case was a divisive one, as Joseph Nance's two sisters were supportive of him while Gregory Nance's parents and brother believed the case still should have been prosecuted as a murder.
Poll said the plea deal was offered based on the belief that, had the case gone to trial, the information about Gregory Nance — including the history of abuse and its impact on Joseph Nance's mental state — would have likely led to a manslaughter conviction anyway. He said, however, that concurrent sentences based on the same rationale would be like "two bites of the apple" and asked for consecutive prison terms.
"He did kill his father and he didn't have a self-defense claim on that day," Poll said. "He's shown that he has a tendency toward violence."
Monty Nance, Gregory Nance's brother and Joseph Nance's uncle, briefly addressed the judge and said his brother's wife had warned him that something was going to happen to Gregory Nance before the shooting.
"They showed me the gun. Tell me that's not premeditated," Monty Nance said. "I don't think this should have happened."
Utzinger reiterated that the shooting was not planned. Joseph Nance spoke only briefly on his own behalf.
"I just want to say that I wish the circumstances were different," he said. "I hope my family can forgive me sometime soon and I'm sorry for causing them all of this pain."
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