A man who sustained life-threatening injuries during a February assault publicly forgave his attacker last week, and the presiding judge took the victim’s words to heart.

Seventh District Judge Lyle R. Anderson suspended the prison sentence he imposed on defendant Gregory Dennel Williford III, and ultimately placed the 19-year-old high school student on probation for three years.

Williford, who severely injured his family’s elderly landlord in February while he was reportedly under the influence of LSD, pleaded guilty on Tuesday, May 9, to second-degree felony abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult and third-degree felony attempted aggravated assault.

Under the terms of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to reduce the original second-degree felony aggravated assault charge to the third-degree felony. They also dismissed additional misdemeanor charges of child abuse, lewdness involving a child, interference with an arresting officer and two counts of possession or use of a controlled substance.

Williford faced a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in state prison, and up to $15,000 in fines. But after the 82-year-old victim in the case and the prosecuting attorney called for leniency, the judge agreed to follow the sentencing recommendations, which include six months of jail time, with credit for time served.

“Mr. Williford, you can move on from this,” Judge Anderson said. “I agree that it’s proper not to send you to prison, although it was a horrible thing that you did, and I hope that’s the one thing you take from this, is that you need to alter your life so that (this) doesn’t ever happen again.”

The victim told the court that Williford’s actions caused “so many problems” – not only in his life, but in the lives of Williford’s family members, as well. Yet the man told the court that he has forgiven Williford for the things he did to him.

“I don’t want to see his life ruined by going to prison,” the man said. “And I think that this plea deal is plenty good for him.”

In addition to placing Williford on probation and ordering him to serve six months in jail, the judge ordered him not to have any contact with the victim in the case, and to pay the man a still-undetermined amount of restitution. He must also obtain and complete counseling for substance abuse – a condition that the victim supports.

“I hope that he will learn from this that drugs do not do you any good – they just cause problems,” the man said. “And I hope that he will find time and effort to get off these things and get some help.”

Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said his office supports the plea agreement because of Williford’s young age, as well as his lack of a prior criminal history. Yet Fitzgerald also highlighted the severity of the Feb. 8 attack, which was so serious that the man had to be transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, for emergency surgery.

“His assault on the victim was quite brutal, and it appears the defendant was maybe ‘hopped up’ on something, or having some sort of mental health issue,” he said.

More than three months after the attack, Fitzgerald said, the victim is still suffering from some ongoing health issues as a result of the injuries he sustained.

“It really set him back physically, and even to this day, I think he’s not fully recovered from being (beaten) so badly by this young man,” Fitzgerald said.

Police reported bloody scene, odd behavior

At the time of the attack, Williford’s mother was renting a house in the 300 block of Walker Street that the victim’s wife owns. The mother was in Salt Lake City and could not reach Williford or his brother, so she asked the man or his wife to check on them and make sure that they were all right.

The man went over to the home by himself and knocked on the front door. When nobody answered, he entered the home – with the mother’s permission – and then encountered Williford, who asked him what he was doing there.

The man said he explained that Williford’s mother had asked him to check in on the two brothers.

“And that was the last thing I remember,” he said. “I don’t remember anything for 30 minutes after that.”

A witness told police that Williford attacked the man at the bottom of the stairs, inflicting a large laceration on the top of the man’s head and another laceration above one of his ears. The man also sustained minor abrasions on both sides of his face, and Williford struck the witness once with a closed fist after saying, “one, two, three,” according to a police report on the incident.

When the reporting Moab City Police officer arrived at the scene, he peered through a window and saw Williford pacing back and forth.

As the officer began to walk downstairs toward the kitchen, he saw a large puddle of blood at the bottom of the stairs. Blood was subsequently found in numerous areas on the property, including a sink and a countertop, a railing near the front door, and on the front porch. Police also discovered a bundle of bloody paper towels on the lawn near the driveway.

The officer continued on to the room where he’d seen Williford pacing, and discovered that the suspect was not wearing any clothes. As he entered the room, the officer said “hello” to Williford, who did not appear to understand the greeting. Instead, Williford grabbed his head with a fast jerking movement as the officer approached him, and then fell onto the floor, according to the police report.

Williford jumped back up and began to walk away as the reporting officer and others came closer, and he refused to comply with their commands to stop struggling once he was in custody.

He subsequently began to count to the numeral 14 multiple times, and when the reporting officer asked Williford if he had taken any drugs, Williford nodded his head up and down. He then nodded his head again in the affirmative on separate occasions when asked if he had taken LSD, and if he’d hit the victim, according to the officer’s report.

The victim told the court that he knows Williford “really well,” and said that Williford seemed like a “nice kid.”

“It had to be the drugs,” he said. “But I can’t blame the drugs, because he took them, and I feel that he needs to get some kind of rehabilitation for those drugs, because he could be a good kid.”

In brief remarks to the court, Williford apologized to the victim and the man’s family. He said he has no memory of the incident, claiming that he’d taken “acid tabs” for the first time shortly before the man appeared at the home.

“After I took them, I couldn’t remember anything,” he said.

When the judge pressed him for details about where the LSD came from, Williford said he got it from “some random person” he met on the streets.

“I didn’t even know him,” he said. “I don’t even remember his name.”

Williford told the court that he was depressed that day when his mother left for Salt Lake City.

“I was going through situations and I just took the drug,” he said.

“When I took it, I’d never been through a drug like that before ever in my life, so when I woke up, I was terrified,” he added. “I didn’t know what I did.”

Grand County Public Defender Don Torgerson said he believes his client’s account that he doesn’t have any memory of what happened on Feb. 8.

“I don’t think he recognized (the victim) because he had taken some drugs that were apparently laced with LSD, is what he suspects,” he said.

Torgerson said he finds Williford to be remorseful.

“I do think he is a good kid who just did a really stupid thing that (could have) potentially ruined his life,” he said.

The victim, he said, was “very generous” in what he said, and in how he’s viewing the situation.

Williford, meanwhile, aims to take responsibility for his actions that day, Torgerson said, but he doesn’t want the incident to ruin his life completely.

“I think he is accepting all of his responsibility in all of this and is willing to put things aside, and I really don’t think the court will see Mr. Williford again after this,” Torgerson said.

Victim forgives assailant for Feb. 8 attack that left him with life-threatening injuries

I agree that it’s proper not to send you to prison, although it was a horrible thing that you did, and I hope that’s the one thing you take from this, is that you need to alter your life so that (this) doesn’t ever happen again.