Two men who admitted participating in a gang-related drive-by shooting last fall were sent to the Utah State Prison Monday.
Benny Lee Gardner, 18, spent four months and Trentin M. Giles, 19, spent two months in the Salt Lake County Jail following a drive-by shooting in Kearns on Oct. 15. But 3rd District Judge Michael Murphy said he had "some real concerns" about the two and ordered both to serve more time for their crimes - this time at the Point of the Mountain.Gardner was ordered to serve two concurrent zero-to-5-year sentences for his guilty pleas to two counts of aggravated assault. He admitted he used a shotgun to fire five or six shots at four Kearns High students who were walking home near 4600 West and 5300 South.
Murphy said he'd given a lot of thought to the case and felt prison was necessary for Gardner. "When someone chooses to react in that fashion with a weapon, there is something seriously wrong," he said.
The judge told Giles he was considering the same sentence for him but instead chose to send him to the prison for a 90-day diagnostic evaluation. Murphy said he wanted "to determine exactly what it is that makes you tick." Giles will leave the prison on June 17 to be sentenced.
Attorneys described problems Kearns area residents have faced over the years because of increased gang activity.
Defense attorney Connie Mower said Gardner has continuously been assaulted by members of the Tongan Crips Gang for several years and has received little help from deputy sheriffs. "Members of this group have threatened to kill him," she said, explaining that his home and family have been the targets of drive-by shootings, too.
The night of the shooting, she reminded the judge, one of Gardner's friends was beaten in a parking lot and doused from head to toe with gasoline. Four Tongan males were seen running away from the scene.
"Members of this group were flicking cigarette lighters off and on trying to torch him." Mower said Gardner was concerned the Tongans would come after him and was retaliating when he fired at the Tongan victims.
Alama Tausinga, 18, and Fatafehi Semani, 15, were hit with several small pellets from the shotgun blasts. Mower described the pellets as "about the size of a tip of a pin."
"A shotgun blast to the back of the head is life-threatening no matter what you have in the shotgun," said deputy Salt Lake County attorney Greg Skordas. "Besides, I don't even think Benny knew what was in the shotgun."
Mower described Gardner as an "outstanding young man" and said the victims were "known members of the Crips gang."
"There have been cries for help from this community for years," she said. "Mr. Gardner was operating out of pure fear of these people who have tormented him for years."
But Skordas said the gang problem is more of a community problem.
He said Gardner is the leader of a group that has a "Tongans have taken over our community" attitude. They believe Tongans have taken over the high school football team and a neighborhood dance hall and are upset that Tongans are dating white girls in the community.
Although Giles has admitted he was the driver of the vehicle used in the shooting, defense attorney Don Bybee said his client did not know Gardner was carrying a shotgun when he jumped into Giles' car.
Both men and Gary Archibald, 24, were originally charged with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault. The attempted murder charges were dropped in exchange for their guilty pleas to aggravated assault.
Archibald, accused of being in the back seat of the vehicle during the shooting, will be sentenced March 25.