SALT LAKE CITY —In November 2010, John Paul White killed his 62-year-old mother before trying to kill himself, an act of remorse, according to defense attorneys.
Prosecutors countered that the man was in the hospital for at least two days after the suicide attempt and never once told anyone he'd killed his mother or that she might need help.
"It's hard for anyone to explain what's happening here. ... It's quite puzzling," 3rd District Judge Robin Reese said, noting that the case left him with more questions than answers. He then addressed White: "There's no question you're going to prison."
Reese sentenced White, 23, to 15 years to life in prison for murder Monday. He also ordered the man to pay restitution in the case.
Mary White's body was found with multiple stab wounds to her throat in the South Salt Lake apartment she shared with her son. Edward Leis, chief deputy medical examiner for Utah, testified in a preliminary hearing that the woman died as a result of sharp force injuries and had several lacerations on her neck, one of which cut through her jugular vein.
There was evidence White first tried to strangle the woman before turning to the knives.
After being released from the hospital, White talked to police and confessed to killing his mother. He allegedly told them the decision to take her life was made "spur of the moment."
"He said that (his mother) asked him for a cup of coffee and that was basically 'the last … time I was making her a cup of coffee,'" South Salt Lake police detective Darren Carr recounted at the preliminary hearing.
White did not speak in court when given the opportunity Monday.
Prosecutor Michael Boehm told the judge that the prison sentence was necessary for three reasons: the violence of the crime, the lack of remorse and the irreparable damage caused by White's actions.
"It took several minutes to carry out this crime, it took several weapons," Boehm said. "The level of violence in this case is extreme ... This was his mother."
Defense attorney Bevan Corry told the judge his client was under the influence of spice, a synthetic marijuana, at the time and that White's failed attempt to take his own life was a demonstration of remorse. He said the man's decision to plead guilty was an extension of the same.
"He's pleaded guilty as charged fully knowing he'd be sent to prison," Corry said. "He wanted to do this. He knows he deserves what's coming to him."
Two of Mary White's other children attended the hearing Monday, but visibly emotional, declined to address the judge.
Corry said after the hearing that he had talked to a doctor who said spice use could lead to "inexplicable violence." He said his client had been using the substance for less than a year when the crime occurred.
"He slowly became more disturbed over the course of that time," Corry said.
Boehm said that even if White, who had no criminal history at the time of his arrest, had been using spice, it wouldn't have influenced his confession to police two days later. The prosecutor said the information that spice use was to blame for the crime was "not part of the information we were acting on."