Primary suspect admits guilt in Gunnison Valley High abuse case
By Robert Stevens
MANTI—The primary suspect in the Gunnison Valley High School sex abuse case admitted his guilt in 6th District Juvenile Court on Tuesday. He is scheduled to be sentenced in 6-8 weeks.
“I feel like the case turned out very well,” Wes Mangum, deputy county attorney, said following the hearing. “I feel Gunnison police did a fantastic job in the investigation, talking to all the witnesses and gathering evidence….I think this resolution is in the best interests in not only the victims, but also the juvenile suspect. “
In a plea agreement, the sophomore football player, who was charged as the main perpetrator in the case, admitted to eight counts of forcible sexual assault, all second-degree felonies. Several counts of object rape, which would have been first-degree felonies, were dismissed as part of the deal.
The case came to light after a victim came forward saying three boys had assaulted him before football practice. During the subsequent investigation, more than a dozen Gunnison Valley High School students came forward and said they had been subjected to similar assaults.
Now that a plea has been entered, Mangum said all parties involved need to focus on moving forward.
“The juvenile court has kind of a two-fold mission,” Mangum said. “One is you hold juveniles accountable for their actions and make sure justice is received for the victims, but also that you extend mercy and somewhat of an olive branch, because they are juveniles, they are minors, and juvenile court is there to try and rehabilitate those minors and hopefully provide whatever tools are needed to address whatever is causing their actions.”
Mangum says there are bound to be some on the juvenile suspect’s side who may not feel the outcome is fair. But Mangum reiterated that his job was to follow the evidence and, he said, the evidence against the youth was “overwhelming.”
“Now we need to get healing,” he said, “for the community, for the victims and for the suspect. Part of that is learning to accept the outcomes, learning to forgive and learning to move on.”
Officer Carl Wimmer of the Gunnison Valley Police Department, who investigated the assault, said he was satisfied with the outcome.
“Justice has been served,” Wimmer said. “The most important thing out of all of this, though, is that the truth prevailed. There was so much misinformation and lies spread around the community about this case, but now the truth is out, and we need to get on with hope and healing.”
Mangum said his office and the defense counsel would work with juvenile probation to come up with sentencing recommendations.
A civil suit filed in federal court by Misty Cox, the mother of one of the victims, is still pending. Cox claims that school and district authorities knew about incidents of abuse months or years earlier but took no incident.
Cox said when she reported the assault on her son, school authorities downplayed it, saying it was a case of “boys being boys.”