They could have gone to state prison for up to 10 years, but the four men who assaulted a former Moab resident last December will instead spend the next six months under home confinement.
Seventh District Judge Lyle R. Anderson suspended the prison sentences and additional jail terms of Jeffery Tranter, Gabriel Laurio, Joshua Laurio and Keith Leavitt, after the four men pleaded guilty this month to reduced charges stemming from the attack.
The judge said he considered the possibility of requiring each defendant to spend some time in jail, as a “declaration of concern” about their actions in the early morning hours of Dec. 19, 2015.
He was under no obligation to follow the terms of the plea deals, which include stipulations that they refrain from drinking alcohol and avoid any contact with the victims in the case – or with each other, except under special circumstances. But the judge ultimately determined that home confinement will effectively restrict their lives, and give them “a taste of what it’s like” to lose their freedom.
“So take it seriously,” he said on Wednesday, March 16. “Don’t think it’s a joke, because it would be just fine with me to impose jail time if you can’t live with the home confinement.”
Authorities reported that the four men forced their way into the Wingate Avenue home of Randall Gaines and Misty McKee last December, and began to beat Gaines violently, demanding to know where McKee’s brother Cody Roark was. With no signs of Roark at the couple’s home, the suspects dragged Gaines outside and continued to beat him, demanding that he take them to Roark. They subsequently tried to burst into a second home at the Grand Oasis trailer park in search of McKee’s brother, before they finally returned to the scene of the first home invasion and abandoned a bloodied Gaines in front of his house.
Police initially arrested all four men on suspicion of numerous felony and misdemeanor charges, including first-degree assault, kidnapping and aggravated burglary. Tranter – the suspected ringleader of the home invasion and assault – originally faced 17 offenses, including three first-degree felonies.
Under the deal with prosecutors, they pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including two counts each of attempted aggravated burglary, as well as a misdemeanor charge of attempted aggravated assault; Tranter pleaded guilty to an additional misdemeanor charge of impaired driving.
Attorneys say cases would have faltered at trial
Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said he believes the original charges against the four defendants were “probably exaggerated and overcharged to some extent.”
At the same time, he said that if the cases had gone forward to trial, key witnesses’ “veracity problems” would have created a “weakness” for the prosecution.
“We have some very bad, dangerous behavior by these four defendants, but we also have facts and circumstances in the background that no one really told the police about why it all happened,” Fitzgerald said. “But the court and of course others can guess that it wasn’t things that were legal, and so it’s a bit of a mess for everybody.”
While the circumstances behind the incident officially remain a mystery, attorneys for both sides implied that people in Gaines’ social circle may have been involved in illicit activities.
“We never really got a clear idea from the police reports,” Fitzgerald said. “But through a little more investigation and talking to various people, we think it’s a situation where perhaps somebody’s drugs went missing, and these four individuals were upset about it and went and did something about it when they were intoxicated.”
Defense attorney Tara L. Isaacson, who represented Joshua Laurio, said that follow-up interviews and further investigations revealed unspecified details that could have undermined the prosecution’s case.
“I don’t want to go into all of the evidence, but had we had a preliminary hearing, or had we had a trial, there would be significant issues with respect to the credibility of some of those witnesses,” Isaacson said. “And we believe that many of the charges would have been dismissed, based upon the credibility issues.”
Defense attorneys admit clients’ guilt
While the defendants’ friends and supporters insisted in social media posts that the four men hadn’t done anything wrong, Isaacson said there is “no question” that they used unlawful force against Gaines.
“The bottom line is all of these gentlemen made a terrible decision,” she said.
Both Isaacson and Gabriel Laurio’s defense attorney Happy Morgan said that Tranter egged the others on by claiming that “items” had been stolen from him.
“Mr. Tranter came over and said, ‘My house got robbed; my Christmas money got taken, and this is who I think did it,’” Morgan said. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, to go and try to resolve this, especially late at night. Scary and dangerous for everyone involved.”
All four men were heavily intoxicated at the time, Fitzgerald said, and even when law enforcement officers appeared at the scene, the aggressive defendants continued to jeopardize many other people’s safety.
“They were belligerent and obviously drunk and put law enforcement in a dangerous position,” he told the court. “One of them had a gun on him at the time … the gun never became an issue, but it certainly was dangerous for law enforcement when they were dealing with them and didn’t know there was a gun.”
The facts would suggest that someone could have shot them in self-defense, Fitzgerald said, and they would have been justified in doing so.
Reactions to plea deals are mixed
Fitzgerald said the plea deals will allow the defendants to keep working and pay off their debts, including more than $1,887 in court fines, fees and restitution to the victims in the case.
“If you send someone to jail for a certain amount of time, they lose their jobs, and that trickles down and has consequences,” he told the Moab Sun News.
But one of the victims in the case told the court that she continues to have problems sleeping at night, as she recalls the moment when they broke down her door at the Grand Oasis in search of Roark.
“Because of their actions, they have messed up people’s lives that did not have anything to do with their problems,” Sherry Medina said.
Morgan said the four men focused on Roark for a reason: Shortly before the incident occurred, she said, Roark was released on parole from the Utah State Prison, where he was serving time following a felony conviction in San Juan County.
“His criminal history is not a secret, and so when the neighbor’s home was burglarized, it was easy to focus on the new next-door neighbor who was just released on parole,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t make it OK – I’m not suggesting it’s OK.”
She said that despite Gabriel Laurio’s actions early that morning, he’s consistently been a good citizen.
“This night was completely inconsistent with who he is,” she said. “He’s deeply ashamed.”
Both Gabriel Laurio and Tranter declined to address the court. But Joshua Laurio and Leavitt apologized for their actions.
“I just want you to know that I don’t take any of this lightly,” Joshua Laurio said. “I take it very serious, and I am very sorry for my mistakes.”
“I was intoxicated, and I have no excuses for my actions, and I’m sorry,” Leavitt said.
Gaines, who has since moved out of state, did not respond to requests for comment. But his grandmother Randi Warren told the Moab Sun News that she and her family are satisfied with the terms of the plea deals.
She said that for the sake of the defendants’ families, she’s glad that none of the four men will go to prison.
“I don’t want their kids to see the guys in that situation,” Warren said.
While her grandson continues to suffer from emotional distress, she said, he’s recovered from his physical injuries – including damage to his teeth, which have been repaired.
“He’s moving on with his life, and I think everyone else should, too,” she said.
If the four men successfully comply with the terms of their probation over the next three years, the court will reduce their felony convictions to misdemeanors. But if they stray from the terms of their sentences, the judge warned them that their actions would have consequences.
“So, you guys, find some things you can do around the house,” he said.
Four men sentenced to house confinement for roles in violent home invasion
The bottom line is all of these gentlemen made a terrible decision.