GUNNISON, Sanpete County — For the second time in four years, Marv Peterson stood before a Utah Board of Pardons and Parole hearing officer and tried to master his emotions.
"OK, let's see if we can get through this," the father of three said Thursday, appearing to choke on the words just a little.
Peterson wasn't there pleading for freedom from the "life sentence" his family is serving. He knows that will likely never come.
Instead, he was asking the parole board not to release Taggart John Anderton, the man who sexually assaulted Peterson's autistic teenage son in March 2009, setting in motion a series of events that have trapped the boy and his family in a prison of their own.
"That man has an opportunity in prison to rehabilitate," Peterson said. "Our son does not have that option, because he will live with this festering wound for the rest of his life."
Peterson's son, who has the mental capacity of a 7-year-old child, hasn't been allowed to live at home for the past four years, due to intervention by the state Division of Child and Family Services and the courts. He lives in a group home five hours away from his family, requires 24-hour supervision and care, and has become obsessed with things of a sexual nature as a result of the abuse.
"When (Anderton) told him his version of normal (sexual behavior), and because it was such a traumatic experience, it has changed (my son's) vision of acceptable behavior," Peterson said Thursday.
Anderton admitted he was high on meth when he encountered the teenager on March 19, 2009, in the bathroom at the rec center. He also maintained that the teen asked to watch him shower, solicited him for sex and performed a sex act on him. It's the same version of events Anderton offered during his first parole hearing in November 2010 — a version not supported by the evidence or by witness testimony, according to police.
Uintah County prosecutors charged Anderton with aggravated kidnapping, forcible sodomy, forcible sex abuse, attempted forcible sex abuse, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He later pleaded guilty to reduced charges of kidnapping, attempted forcible sex abuse, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison.
"I didn't know (the boy) was autistic," Anderton said Thursday. "I didn't really know how old he was."
"Do you see yourself as a victim in this whole situation?" asked Kent Jones, a hearing officer for the parole board.
"No, I don't," Anderton replied. "I'm the adult, and I made a wrong choice there."
Jones noted though that Anderton only spent a few months in the prison's sex offender treatment program before being kicked out for minimizing his role in the abuse. He also questioned whether Anderton continues to have sexual feelings for teenage boys.
"Not really," said Anderton, who admitted that when he uses meth, he has no control over his sexual behavior.
That's something that concerns members of Anderton's family, who say he has been a drug abuser since his teenage years. His brother, Kit Anderton, in a letter sent to the parole board and provided to the Deseret News, asked that Anderton not be released from prison.
"I believe that my brother has abused his body with drugs to the extent that there has been irreparable harm done," Kit Anderton wrote. "The unanimous feelings of my immediate family members are that, given the chance, he will return to drugs and other deviant behavior, and that these behaviors will accelerate."
Taggart Anderton admitted that he had been using meth heavily for about two years at the time he sexually assaulted the Petersons' son, and agreed to follow the release guidelines for sex offenders if paroled. He also offered the Peterson family an apology.
"I'm very sorry for what happened at the rec center that day. I didn't intend for that to happen." Anderton said. "I hope (the victim) gets better."
The Petersons have spent thousands of dollars in child support to pay for their son's care, and travel to see him whenever they can. They've also become extremely protective of their two younger sons, refusing to allow them to use public restrooms alone or sleep over at friends' homes.
"We try to keep them with us all the time," Marv Peterson said. "I'm just so scared."
Jones, the parole board hearing officer, touched on that fear when informing Anderton what his recommendation will be.
"Not only did you victimize a young kid, but the family and as well as all of Vernal," he said. "Because every parent that takes their kids (to the rec center) now are on guard because of what you did.
"To me," Jones added, "I just think that you've done such a dastardly deed, that you ought to stay here for the entire sentence."
The parole board's decision should be finalized in about a month. If it follows Jones' recommendation, Anderton would be released from prison in March 2024.
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