The Justice Files: Where’s my justice?

Justice Files

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Denise Trella feels victimized again.

In 2016, her son, Jason Nakonechni was brutally tortured and shot to death. Five people were arrested and charged with his murder. But four years later, Trella said the judicial system failed her.

“We feel there is no place for the survivors, victims,” said Trella.

In September 2016, Marilee Borden arranged for Nakonechni to visit her at a motel in Salt Lake City.  Once inside three people violently beat him. 

“I didn’t know Nakonechni was going to be assaulted but I did lead him into the room,” said Borden during a recent parole hearing.

According to court documents, the trio included Michael Snyder, Allison Wells and Rodney Maxwell.

“Nakonechni was violently beaten, resulting in blood loss and the loss of several teeth,” the charging documents stated. “(Snyder) shoved a screwdriver into Mr. Nakoechni’s ear.”

The victim was then taken to the home of Corey Petersen.  Court documents stated that Nakonechni was targeted because he owed Petersen money and was considered a “snitch.”

There, Nagonechni was hit with brass knuckles, stabbed in the leg and beaten repeatedly in the head and face. Snyder allegedly shot Nagonechni at the home.

“I was sick,” said Trella. “I was sick first of all he is a human and he is my child and third because he was so small and vulnerable.”

Many others have were appalled by the torture-murder. Eventually, Nakonechni’s body was found at a rock pit in Tooele County. His vehicle was also set on fire.

Borden was among the first to cooperate. She eventually plea-bargained to obstruction of justice and aggravated kidnapping was dismissed. She appeared before a Board of Pardons hearing officer earlier this month.

“I didn’t know that this person was going to do harm when all of this occurred I ran from the room as soon as they spoke to him,” said Borden. “I ran down the street and I absolutely didn’t do the right thing by not trying to contact police. I was afraid.”

Borden apologized to Nakonechni’s family.  Days after her hearing, Borden was granted paroled.

“I don’t like it,” said Trella.  “I think she will flee. I was told all the women would remain in prison until all the men were finished (prosecuted).

She said the judicial system appeared to favor the defendants. In addition to Borden getting paroled earlier than her five-year sentence, Corey Petersen is also a sore spot with Trella. He allegedly was the mastermind of the kidnapping and murder.

Petersen also got a plea deal and murder charges were dropped to manslaughter.  At his hearing, he was sentenced to 25 years to life.  But according to recent filings by the district attorney, the judge made a mistake. He sentenced Petersen based on murder charges when in fact he pleaded to manslaughter. Under state law, a manslaughter conviction carries a two-to-20-year prison term.  Petersen will have to be re-sentenced.

“They got more lenient,” said Trella. “They seem to take the side of Petersen’s and it was due to cooperation. I begged Judge (Royal) Hansen to reject the plea deal. He said his hands were tied.”

What angers Trella even more is that Petersen’s past criminal misdemeanors are scheduled to be expunged under a new state law. More than 13,000 individuals qualify for expungement for misdemeanor drug charges.

But a spokesman for the Salt Lake district attorney’s office said Petersen doesn’t qualify because he committed a felony (murder).

As for the others, Michael Snyder was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Allison Wells accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to two terms of one-to-15 years for robbery and aggravated assault. But each charge will be served concurrently, meaning she could be out in as little as one year. Rodney Maxwell who also faces murder charges is considering a plea offer and is due in court this week.

“We wanted to go to trial,” Trella said. “That was a chance we were willing to take because we wanted the entire story to come out.”

The founder of Utah Homicide Survivors said the law is very limited when it comes to the rights of survivors of crime. Brandon Merrill who is also an attorney said little can be done when victim’s object to plea bargains.

“That doesn’t guarantee the judge or the prosecutors have to listen to what they say,”  Merrill said. “Victims don’t often get as much voice in the criminal system as they should.”

He said that’s why it’s important for families to continue monitoring a case even after a person is sent to prison. 

“The biggest thing I can say to victims is to be part of the Board of Pardons and parole hearings,” he said. “The first hearings where they are eligible for parole are very important.”

In addition, Merrill said families should write letters to the Board of Pardons on the anniversary date of their loved one’s death.

“Make sure you are heard every year,” said Merrill. “The more involved, the less likely the Board of Pardons will release (inmate) because they are going to see that the pain and hurt that they caused when it first appeared is still occurring today.”

But he concedes at some point an inmate will qualify for release.

Nagoechni’s mother did attend Borden’s parole hearing. But Borden was still granted parole after serving four years of the five-year sentence.

“(I’m angry) toward the perpetrators but clearly towards at the justice system,” said Trella.

Trella will still get an opportunity to voice her objection when Petersen is re-sentenced and at Maxwell’s sentencing in the near future.

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