SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Christopher Tolton is a convicted killer with regrets.
In 1997, he was running with the wrong crowd, drifting from home to home, jobless and angry. All this helped land him in prison. But looking back, Tolton said life behind bars was his redemption.
“I was just making horrible decisions forever since I was about 15,” Tolton said at his recent parole hearing.
For the then 21-year old, it was a life of drugs, drinking, and stealing for money.
At night, he roamed the streets of Salt Lake City. By day, he plotted his next move to keep his lifestyle going.
One day in 1997, Tolton admitted to buying a gun at a pawn shop. He said he felt empowered with it in his hand.
He and a friend headed to Fairmont Park to meet their so-called friends. But shots rang out and Tolton shot and killed a 21-year-old and wounded a 15-year-old.
Tolton said he needed money to make his crumbling life better.
“I panicked,” he said. “It’s not really crystal clear. But I know I was in a mode of self-survival, and I have to get away with this. I can’t believe what just happened.”
Tolton and his accomplice, Davey Joe Williams, were eventually arrested for the murder of Arthur Sanchez and the attempted murder of a 15-year-old.
In 2001 at Tolton’s sentencing, family members of the victims refused to comment. Tolton’s plea deal spared his life.
“This is one of those cases where the death penalty was too good for him,” said prosecutor Bob Stott in 2003. “We structured this so that he will be a very old man when he leaves prison.”
But Tolton is 45-years old now, and after 20-years in prison, he is now eligible for parole. He recently appeared before a hearing officer.
Tolton offered an apology to his victims. He considered Sanchez and the 15-year-old friends, but to date has never talked with the 15-year-old since the shooting.
“I’d tell him I’m sorry,” Tolton responded when asked what he would say to him. “He didn’t deserve that. He was a really good kid. He hung out with us.”
The 15-year-old, nor other members of Sanchez’ family attended the virtual parole hearing.
Over his time in prison, Tolton said he’s turned to religion, which he said helped him understand his mistakes such as hatred towards others and help overcome his insecurity,
It’s given me the strength to tell people no,” he said. “It’s given me the shield that was necessary to move myself away from negative peer groups. It’s been one of the most valuable things I can speak about.”
His hearing officer called his prison resume “impressive” and called him an “intelligent” man.
Tolton teaches his Muslim faith to others in prison and has developed a program that helps inmates make the transition from prison to society — all this while earning a college degree.
But it will be up to the entire board of pardons to review his case and decide if he should be paroled.