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Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

Teen pleads guilty in two courts to murdering brothers

By Pat Reavy, Deseret News

Published: Wed, June 18 11:40 a.m. MDT

 Alex Vidinhar, 10, left, and his brother Benjie, 4, were stabbed to death in their West Point home on May 22, 2013. Their older brother, accused of stabbing them to death, will serve time in both juvenile detention and adult prison.

Alex Vidinhar, 10, left, and his brother Benjie, 4, were stabbed to death in their West Point home on May 22, 2013. Their older brother, accused of stabbing them to death, will serve time in both juvenile detention and adult prison.

(Family photos)

FARMINGTON — A teenager accused of stabbing his two younger brothers to death in their home in 2013 will serve time in both juvenile detention and adult prison.

Aza Vidinhar, 16, struck a plea deal Wednesday in 2nd District Juvenile Court, pleading guilty to two counts of murder in the May 22, 2013, deaths of Alex Vidinhar, 10, and Benjie Vidinhar, 4, in their West Point home. He pleaded guilty in juvenile court to one count of murder and in adult court to the second count about 90 minutes later.

It is believed to be the first time in Utah state court history that a defendant pleaded guilty in a murder case in both juvenile and adult court.

"It's an attempt to give a balance to a system that makes it hard to do that," Vidinhar's attorney, Todd Utzinger, said after his client was sentenced. "I think any 15-year-old or 16-year-old child deserves, and has to have an opportunity, to mature and get treatment before we impose a draconian measure of sending him to an adult prison.

"Frankly, the bottom line is it would be inhumane for any 16- or 17-year-old child to go straight to the prison without first having an opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation," Utzinger said.

Vidinhar, wearing a blue sweatshirt with his hands and feet shackled, replied, "Yeah, I understand," when 2nd District Juvenile Court Judge Janice Frost asked if he understood that he was admitting to intentionally causing the death of another person.

Later, when 2nd District Judge David Hamilton again went over the conditions of the plea deal for count two and asked Vidinhar if he understood them, he replied, "I understand and agree to them."

In 2013, when Vidinhar was 15, his mother came home and found the 4-year-old child's body. Police were called and discovered the 10-year-old's body after conducting a search of the house. Both were stabbed multiple times. Aza Vidinhar was missing after the discovery but was found by police several hours later.

Utzinger, speaking on behalf of his client, told the court that Vidinhar was sorry for what happened and part of the reason he agreed to the plea deal and to waive adult certification was so his parents wouldn't have to sit through a trial and hear the details that would come out. Utzinger said he believed Vidinhar was already showing progress and maturity for that.

"(Vidinhar's parents) are in an impossible situation. They're trying to balance their love for Aza and their other children and how to handle an event of this magnitude, and I think they've done very well. They just want an opportunity to move on privately with their lives," he said.

Vidinhar's mother, father and other family members sat in the front row of both courtrooms Wednesday observing the plea deals. Each hearing had a heavy presence of security. After the hearings, bailiffs allowed the family to leave through a back door to avoid having to walk past the line of waiting reporters and photographers.

Under the deal, Vidinhar will remain in the Farmington Bay Youth Detention Center until he is 21, or unless he fails to follow through with treatment or causes problems, at which time he'll be transferred to the adult system.

"Your conduct will be the deciding factor in what happens in the adult system," Frost said. "You do understand that when your time in juvenile court is finished, you'll go to adult prison."

Once he completes his time in the juvenile system, Vidinhar will "officially" be sentenced to 15 years to life in the adult system. His attorneys, however, said they will ask the Board of Pardons and Parole for an early review hearing. If the board determines Vidinhar has made significant progress while in the juvenile facility, they could vote to release him before 15 years, Utzinger said. Vidinhar will also receive credit in prison for time served dating back to his arrest in 2013.

"Serving time is just serving time. You pay your debt to society by becoming a better person," Frost told Vidinhar at the end of the juvenile hearing. "You can't make up for what happened, but you can commit to being better.

"Some day you'll get out, and you'll need to be a productive citizen. And that's how you'll pay your debt to society."

A motive for the stabbings has not been revealed. Utzinger declined to go into detail Wednesday about what happened that night, saying the most important thing now for Vidinhar was treatment.

He also declined to discuss any possible mental illness his client might have. At one point during the hearing before Hamilton, however, the judge noted that Vidinhar was on medication and asked if it impeded his ability to understand the plea deal.

"Kind of helps it, actually," he told the judge.

Members of the Davis County Attorney's Office left the courthouse without comment Wednesday. They later issued a prepared statement stating that the plea deal gives Vidinhar the benefit of treatment in the juvenile system while still addressing public safety concerns.

Utzinger agreed.

"A case of this magnitude, it's never a happy day for anybody. It's a somber day. But we thank the attorneys on both sides, and the family, and we've all tried to come together to reach a resolution that will hopefully give Aza the opportunity to get treatment and still protects the state's interest in having society remain safe until we know how well Aza does," he said. "This is not a happy day by any means."

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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1. Lasvegaspam
Henderson, NV,
June 18, 2014

May God's blessings be with the family. We have a similar case here in Nevada where a 15-year-old boy killed his 17-year-old brother in front of their mother. I don't think there can be a more difficult thing to deal with than children lost in such a way, and other children to blame.

2. one old man
Ogden, UT,
June 18, 2014

This was a good decision.

3. EnglishAlan
Rugeley, Staffs,
June 19, 2014

Just heartbreaking when you see the photographs of those two great looking children. I have grandchildren of that age, and cannot even begin to comprehend the pain that these poor parents have had to suffer. My prayers and thoughts go out to them.

The decisions on moving the teenager forward are excellent. Let's hope that he can be treated, made well, and become a good member of society.

4. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
June 19, 2014

Bad decision and the judge should throw out this collaborative deal to save the government and defense lawyer so time and money in giving the innocent until proven guilty a fair trial.

The boy has clearly exhibited some very traumatic and emotional stress levels that question the doubt of this boy to properly make a coherent decision or confession by a very distraught minor who is unable to cope with the real acts he may have been involved in.

The judge should deny any waivers of trial and put a jury in motion to insure we are doing the right thing to this boy. Expediency is the prosecutors wish to avoid the fact that this boy may be mentally unstable and need help and not prison for life. The defense lawyer also has biases to render as little time as possible to advance to more prosperous cases making more money. This is where the judge should use caution and wisdom over collaboration to conviction on a very traumatic life can be an injustice. Confessions are under duress in these deals and not a true trial.