A Utah teen, who lured his 12-year-old neighbor from home by claiming he needed her help to find his lost cat, has pleaded guilty to the girl’s 2015 rape and murder, according to multiple news sources.
Jayden Sterzer, now 18 – who sexually assaulted and then strangled Kailey Vijil with his tank top – is likely to remain in juvenile detention for another three years until he turns 21, then faces a possible adult prison term of 15 years to life, reports the The Salt Lake Tribune, the local TV station Fox13 Salt Lake City and Good4Utah.com.
Sterzer was 15 at the time the crimes were committed but his legal team claims he has the intellectual capacity of a toddler. On Monday he accepted blame by pleading guilty in juvenile court to rape of a child, followed by guilty pleas in adult court to first-degree murder and second-degree sexual abuse of a child.
He will be formally sentenced Jan. 19 on the juvenile court plea, then return at a later date to face sentencing on the adult court pleas.
Sterzer’s attorney said the “blended” plea deal was in his client’s best interest after juvenile court Judge James Michie found Sterzer competent to stand trial, rejecting the defense argument that the accused teen didn’t understand the charges against him.
“Because he operates at such a young age — intellectually he operates about at the level of a third-grader — it was very important to do what we could to keep him in the juvenile system for the next three years,” said defense attorney Michael Sikora. “We don’t think he was in any way, shape or form, prepared for a lengthy stay at the Utah state prison.”
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The victim’s family reacted to the guilty pleas through their attorney, Spencer Banks.
“It’s been an unbearable 2½ years that they’ve had to go through,” said Banks. “[The plea deal] assures he will be in custody for an extremely long time, and that’s where they take the most comfort.”
He added: “There’s was no resolution even if this had gone to trial and been convicted on both counts. There’s no ending to this that is completely satisfying or [will] bring complete closure to them. But all things considered they are happy with this.”
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Sterzer’s attorney’s did not dispute that he sexually assaulted and strangled Vijil after enlisting her help to find the fake missing cat just before midnight on July 16, 2015.
Her body was found about 90 minutes later in a horse pasture a half-mile from her family’s home in the Salt Lake City suburb of West Valley City.
Referring to the upcoming sentencing hearing, Judge Michie told Sterzer in court following his plea, “Now the tide has turned, finally, and our focus is not going to be just on you anymore. Our focus is also going to be on Kailey and her family and what you took from them.”