FARMINGTON — Sentenced to prison for murdering a vibrant young woman who died when he slammed a stolen car into her, Anthony Santos Cruz wanted only one thing Wednesday: To apologize to her family.
"Mr. Jeppson, I can't even express in words how much sorrow I feel," Cruz said, receiving permission from the judge to turn and briefly face the weeping father. "I'm so sorry that my addictions led me to my actions that led to the loss of Jazmyn. I am going to try to lead my life so no one else will have to suffer like you have."
Cruz, 28, pleaded guilty in June to murder, a first-degree felony, in the death of 21-year-old Jazmyn Jeppson, who was killed in the violent crash as Cruz fled a series of carjackings. Cruz also admitted to robbery, reduced to a second-degree felony, while two additional charges of aggravated robbery, first-degree felony, were dismissed as part of a deal with prosecutors.
At the time of her death, Jeppson had just returned home to Farmington after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Houston, Texas. She had been home less than two months when she was killed.
As he left the courtroom, Jeppson's father declined to comment on the sentencing, saying only that "two families are hurting." The father then waited for Cruz's family, greeting the man's tearful mother with a hug and shaking hands with other friends and relatives.
Following Cruz's arrest, defense attorney Todd Utzinger said he had to explain that it wasn't advisable for him to communicate with Jeppson's family while the case was ongoing.
Cruz had exchanged letters with the family and received printouts from Jeppson's Facebook page, Utzinger explained. When the attorney asked why, Cruz replied, "I felt like I owed it to her and her family to know who she was," according to Utzinger.
Utzinger said Cruz didn't want the case to go to trial, even with the chance of reducing the murder charge to manslaughter, in order to spare Jeppson's family further grief. With the case now resolved, Cruz hopes to someday meet the family.
"I think this shows genuine concern for the family and other victims," he said.
Cruz told 2nd District Judge David Hamilton that thinking back on his drug-fueled crime spree on Feb. 1, he wishes he had stopped for even a moment to think about what he was doing and where his choices could lead him.
"I'm very embarrassed by my actions. Everything that happened that day could have been avoided," Cruz said.
As he handed down concurrent sentences of 15 years to life for Jeppson's murder and one to 15 years for the robbery, Hamilton told Cruz that justice for the young woman's death demands a heavy price.
The judge cited letters from Jeppson's family, who chose not to speak in the hearing, agreeing that the 21-year-old was "a young woman who radiated goodness" and whose young, promising life was just beginning.
According to police, Cruz and a woman, Michelle Jennifer Vigil, 23, stopped a woman driving on Mutton Hollow Road in Kaysville after Vigil moved into the middle of the street, forcing the driver to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting her.
Vigil told the driver a man with a knife was coming to get her, according to a police report, and Cruz rushed over and took the car at knifepoint.
That car broke down on I-15 near Centerville, where a Unified police officer on his way to work stopped to help the couple, not realizing the car was stolen. Police say Cruz walked away from the car and the officer and unsuccessfully tried to carjack a vehicle stopped in a freeway traffic jam.
At a third vehicle, police say Cruz forcefully took the car and continued south on I-15, "dragging (the car's owner) on the outside of the car at freeway speeds for some distance," charges state.
Cruz sped through a red light at the southbound Centerville exit, slamming into Jeppson's car and killing her.
Vigil pleaded guilty in June to two counts of robbery, a second-degree felony, for her role in the first carjacking. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 17.
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