LOGAN — Her tiny frame seated in a wheelchair, 15-year-old Deserae Turner told the boy who shot her in the head and left her in a canal that she was too determined to die there.
"You shouldn't have messed with me, because I am tougher than a bullet," Deserae said as the tall 17-year-old shackled in front of her hunched forward, trembled and cried.
Though she once considered Colter Peterson a friend — a word that she said the boy doesn't seem to know the definition of — Deserae called the teen "evil" as she spoke of the anger she feels for what he did to her.
"I hate you. I hate what you did to me. I hate that I trusted you," Deserae said. "I hate that I won't ever have a regular life."
As a judge ordered prison Thursday for Peterson, Deserae spoke of the grim reality his actions have left them both with.
While Peterson will be confined to a small cell, Deserae said she will be confined to the physical and emotional impairment she will have for the rest of her life. She told the teen that when he wakes each morning, to remember how much she struggles to get out of bed. Each time he uses his left hand, walks on his own or reads without assistance, he should realize that she no longer can. And when he has a headache, he should "multiply it times a thousand" and think of her, because that's the kind of pain that the bullet he put in her brain brings her every day.
"Good luck in prison, and remember that because of you, my life is a prison," Deserae told him.
"Welcome to hell. I have been here for a year now."
Peterson was sentenced Thursday to at least 15 years and up to life in prison for the attempted murder of Deserae, as well as a concurrent term of one to 15 years for stealing the wounded girl's belongings.
Peterson, who was allowed to attend the hearing in a white shirt and tie, spoke softly as he offered an apology to Deserae and her family Thursday. At the time of the shooting, the teen said he was deeply depressed and in many ways believed his life was already over.
Now, he said, he wants to accept the consequences for his actions and make up for what he has done, though he understands he may never truly be forgiven.
"I am very sorry for what I have done, words can't describe how I feel," Peterson said. "Because of my actions, I caused so much pain and hardship to Deserae and her family. … This has probably ruined my life, but it is nothing compared to what has happened to Deserae."
While 1st District Judge Kevin Allen did not opt to sentence Peterson to the potentially shorter term of six years to life or 10 years to life that Peterson's attorney had asked for, he also did not run the two sentences back to back, as prosecutors had requested.
As he handed down the sentence, Allen called Deserae and her family an example for the community, while assuring Peterson that although he had "embraced evil" in the moment he chose to shoot Deserae, he does not believe the young man is beyond hope.
"There is evil in the world, no doubt," Allen said. "Colter, what you did to this completely innocent young girl, as you know, was evil and horrific."
He went on to tell the teen, "You are young and not so far gone that you cannot obtain redemption."
Peterson pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors in October to attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and an amended charge of robbery, a second-degree felony.
Prosecutors made an impassioned plea Thursday for the longest possible prison sentence — consecutive terms for the two charges, which would total at least 16 years and up to life in prison.
While Peterson's attorney asked the judge for a shorter sentence considering his client's age, remorse and amenability to rehabilitation, prosecutor Spencer Walsh said that the teen should not benefit from any leniency thanks to "Deserae's remarkable will to live."
Walsh went on to reiterate the shocking details of the crime, as well as other "red flags" in Peterson's history that showed the attack wasn't simply a consequence of a boy with depression caving under peer pressure from his friend, but a callous act by a teen who was obsessed with weapons and violence, and who had threatened to harm other girls in the past.
Peterson, who was 16 at the time of the attack, told police he became annoyed by 14-year-old Deserae's frequent Snapchat messages, leading his friend, Jayzon Decker, to suggest they get rid of her, according to testimony in preliminary hearings last year.
The boys lured Deserae to a secluded spot along a canal near Smithfield's Sky View High School on Feb. 16, 2017, saying they wanted to sell her a knife, and when Decker signaled that the moment had come, Peterson shot Deserae in the back of the head. The teens then stole Deserae's belongings and left her in the mud.
Deserae was near death eight hours later when she was found by family friends — whom she praised Thursday as "my two heroes" — searching for her in the dead of night. That was followed by painful and precarious weeks at Primary Children's Hospital. Following her release, Deserae has required 287 medical appointments in 267 days, according to her mother, April Turner.
The bullet that remains lodged in Deserae's skull did permanent damage to her brain, leaving her with difficulty seeing, walking, eating and thinking. Helplessness and fear that still plague her nearly a year later have also led to depression and trust issues, Deserae told the judge.
"There are times I wish I could give the gun back to Colter and tell him to try again and put me out of my misery," she said.
Decker, who has also turned 17 since the shooting, pleaded guilty in December to attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony. While he didn't pull the trigger, prosecutors have said Decker was the mastermind behind the plan to murder Deserae.
Decker is scheduled to be sentenced next Wednesday.
During Thursday's hearing, the parents of both Deserae and Peterson made emotional pleas to the judge on behalf of their children.
As he asked the judge for leniency, Danny Peterson explained that his son had been raised in a supportive household that taught him right from wrong. The parents also taught that he must endure the consequences of his choices.
"I know Colter must pay for what he did, I pray that the punishment will be just — no more, no less," he said. "This is my plea for mercy for my son."26 comments on this story
Allen sympathized with Peterson's parents as he handed down the sentence, emphasizing that they had done their best and no one should blame them for their son's choices.
Matt Turner wept as he spoke to the judge Thursday, describing the helplessness he feels at not being able to heal his daughter or alleviate the burden that weighs on his whole family. He became increasingly emotional as he called out, "Why did you have to do this to my girl?"
He then turned to the boy to tell him, "Do I hate you? No, I don't. I don't hate you."
"She never asked for this, she was just trying to be a friend," Deserae's father said.