PROVO With a split-second poor decision, a former Brigham Young University student changed his life, but thanks to a judge's sentence Thursday, he'll have until January to make things right.
Austin Horton, 22, was sentenced in 4th District Court on a class A misdemeanor of obstruction of justice after failing to tell police that he pulled a fire alarm in a residence hall in Helaman Halls on BYU campus.
Horton, a residence advisor responsible for 40 students, also didn't tell BYU officers what he knew about the small, smoldering mass of rags officers found when they responded.
"I feel very badly that ... one lapse in judgment has brought on such ... aggravation," Horton told Judge Gary Stott. "I will do what I need to do to fix it and move on. It won't happen again."
Horton said he has withdrawn from BYU because of the embarrassment surrounding his case. He said he was worried that the 40 students in his hall who had previously looked up to him wouldn't be able to respect him.
He told Stott he's applying to other Utah colleges and is working full time as the "grunt man" at a flower shop.
"I believe Mr. Horton's disposition and approach today speaks well of him," said deputy Utah County attorney Chad Grunander. "I think he's penitent for what occurred."
Stott followed the recommendation from Adult Probation and Parole, as reiterated by Horton's attorney, Mike Petro, and sentenced the young man to 70 hours of community service and court probation for 18 months, rather than jail time.
"I want to have it done and I want to have it done promptly," Stott told Horton. "It means that you're going to have to get in, use time wisely and get it done. Good luck, young man. Get things taken care of."
In September, Grunander amended Horton's original charge of felony arson down to a class A misdemeanor of obstructing justice after reviewing the case again and deciding Horton was not the one responsible for the smoldering mass.
"The obstruction charge, that's what most accurately reflects his involvement in the matter," Grunander said.
An 18-year-old BYU student was also arrested in April in connection with the fire. He bailed out of jail but has not yet been charged although the investigation is ongoing, Grunander said. As part of the plea deal, Horton agreed to cooperate with police and prosecutors for any future proceedings.
Horton's parents came to support him during the hearing and said afterward they appreciated the prosecution's recognition of the true level of Horton's involvement.
"He didn't do anything but make a mistake of compassion," said Horton's mother, Holly. She said her son was trying to protect the younger student who allegedly set the fire, knowing he had been struggling with other problems and was finally starting to turn his life around."I'm very lucky to be in the situation I'm in," Horton said. "There's a lot of people in a lot worse situations than me. I made a mistake, and I get to fix it quickly."
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