Duchesne County Sheriff's Office
Stephanie Dawn Payan

SALT LAKE CITY — A medical assistant originally charged with murdering her boyfriend has been spared time behind bars after admitting she killed him in self-defense.

Stephanie Dawn Payan, 43, "is a survivor. She is not a criminal," her attorneys argued in court documents. They contend she is a caring mother who fired one shot out of fear in August 2017, killing Guy Wells Mecham after he repeatedly threatened violence and shoved her.

Prosecutors accused Payan of shooting Mecham in the back, in part out of anger, as he left his Duchesne house, but her attorneys said it's not clear he was leaving. He might have tried to retrieve a gun from his truck and hurt her or her teenage daughter, they argued.

"She reacted by using a gun that she had bought and kept for just such a moment: defense," her attorney Scott Williams wrote in court filings ahead of the Monday sentencing hearing.

Payan pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter last month, but a judge on Monday dropped the conviction even further — from a felony to a class A misdemeanor — "in the interest of justice," court documents show.

Williams had sought the extra reduction, saying his client had "devolved into a post-traumatic stress state where she felt trapped and helpless."

Payan and her daughter, then 14, moved from Heber City to Duchesne to live with Mecham, a mechanic. Before that, Mecham had once shoved Payan into a counter, breaking four ribs, her attorneys argued. After she and her teenage daughter moved in with him in the remote eastern Utah town, he began a "brutal assault" on them, threatening to hurt them and kicking their pet dog Gyzmo.

On August 2, 2017, police found the body of Guy Wells Mecham, 51, inside his Duchesne home, 683 E. 300 North.

The day he died, Mecham had come home in a rage, demanded money from Payan for his motorcycle and smashed his fist in a wall when she refused, ramping up threats against Payan and her daughter, Williams argued. He added that Mecham had been convicted of abusing two other women he lived with.

After using her gun to fire one fatal shot at her boyfriend, Payan called her daughter's father and told him to come get their daughter and to call 911, court documents say. She later called police herself, saying "I am a nurse. I save people. I don’t kill them.”

Williams said the mother and daughter have suffered enough and need each other's support.

In a letter, Mecham's family members asked the judge to impose the maximum possible sentence. A mechanic who enjoyed building muscle cars and helping others, he had lost a nephew to suicide in 2009, followed by the deaths of his brother and his mother, and he suffered constant pain from an accident, they said. Mecham's brother and sister-in-law questioned why Payan hadn't taken her daughter and left.

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Eighth District Judge Samuel Chiara ordered Payan to three years of probation and 500 hours of community service. He suspended a one-year jail term, meaning the possible jail time is on hold as she is on probation.

A charge of domestic violence in the presence of a minor, a third-degree felony, was also dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Free and confidential help for victims of domestic violence is available 24/7 by contacting the YWCA, Women in Jeopardy, 801-537-8600; or the Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-897-LINK (5465).