CEDAR CITY — A 5th District judge visibly upset during court Monday handed down the maximum sentence to a woman found guilty of child abuse and obstruction of justice, calling her conduct in the death of her 2-year-old son “egregious.”
Judge Matthew Bell sentenced 26-year-old Brittany Juanita Hall to the Utah State Prison to 1-15 years for each charge, both second-degree felonies. Under Bell’s sentence, Hall will spend a minimum of two years and a maximum of 30 for the role she played in the death of her 2-year-old son, Christopher Leader Jr.
Hall fled the area with her boyfriend Gavin Michael Haar, 26, to Washington state last year after police executed six search warrants in the investigation of her son’s death June 12. The couple were later arrested in Snohomish County and extradited back to Utah.
Haar is awaiting trial for murder and two counts of second-degree felony child abuse.
The night of Christopher’s death Hall told police stories that detectives allege were meant to protect Haar who they believe physically and sexually abused the toddler ultimately causing his death.
“Miss Hall has almost no criminal history prior to this incident but her conduct in this case is egregious. It’s telling,” Bell said. “Not only did she fail to protect her 2-year-old son from obvious and severe abuse but she intentionally obstructed the investigation into his death before she fled the state with the man accused of murdering her son.
Due to Hall’s limited criminal history, the state guidelines in her presentence investigation report calculated she spend 210 days in jail. The investigator responsible for the report however, deviated from this number recommending the defendant serve the 1-15 years allowed under Utah law for a second-degree felony. Bell agreed.
“I find that the defendant’s loyalties, much like the victim’s suffering, to be inexplicable and I agree that the calculated guideline range is wholly insufficient to satisfy justice in this case,” Bell said.
According to the charging documents filed in 5th District Court with Hall’s and Haar’s warrants for arrest, the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide due to internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma to the abdomen.
Christopher was allegedly in Haar’s care the night he died while his mother, employed at a local grocery store, was at work. The couple were living together at the time.
At around 12:30 a.m. Haar texted Hall to come home immediately telling her it was an emergency that Christopher wasn’t breathing. About one minute later he texted again, “Anyone ask about the bruises we got them four-wheeling,” according to court records. Hall then threatened to call police.
The boy was transported to Cedar City Hospital and was pronounced dead at 1:49 a.m. Christopher’s body was covered with bruises on his forehead, eyes, ears, mouth and several circular bruises on the chest and abdomen.
The couple told detectives Christopher had been sick since the previous Saturday after he had allegedly been thrown off an ATV and pinned underneath it. Haar and Hall detailed for authorities how they found the boy minutes later with the gas tank on his chest and the handlebars across his face. Court documents state the couple determined he was fine and never sought medical attention.
In addition, Hall and Haar claimed the child had fallen about three feet Sunday morning while on a small rock-climbing wall at the park, hitting his face and hurting his mouth.
Hall told police she had witnessed the ATV accident, but police said they found “stark inconsistencies” between Hall’s and Haar’s version of events regarding the time of day of the crash and the details of the camping trip.
Investigators later learned that Hall could not have been with Haar and her son at the time of the accident because she had been working. The couple’s roommate also confirmed the couple and the child were all home Saturday. Hall eventually admitted to police she had lied about the camping trip saying she only told the story, “Because that is what he (Haar) tells me and that’s all I have to go off of.”
During the investigation, police learned Haar had previously been kicked out of a family member’s home the couple were living with due to his bad temper and the abusive manner in which he treated both Hall and Christopher, according to court records.
Detectives discovered text messages from Haar to Hall sent about six hours prior to Christopher’s death where Haar allegedly is upset about something Hall did and threatens to give Christopher an “ass beating.”
Defense attorney, Candace Reid, argued Monday during court that, like Christopher, Hall was a victim of domestic violence.
“She was a victim to domestic and verbal abuse and lost her son as well,” Reid said. “It’s often the reaction of people to say ‘Why didn’t you leave, why did you let this happen?’ but there isn’t enough education or understanding about domestic violence and because of that it’s easy to judge and point fingers at their reaction.”
Reid plead for mercy on behalf of her client arguing that Hall only lied to police because she was scared and didn’t know who to trust due to the abuse she had endured.
“It’s true that she wasn’t exactly open or forthcoming with law enforcement when they first got involved but she was stunned and shocked as well I think just trying to process the death of her son and months of what she had gone through,” Reid said. “She didn’t know who to trust. She didn’t know who to open to and that’s pretty consistent throughout the case. I mean, I understand she wasn’t going to get into a room with another man and want to give up everything and all of her past trauma. Unfortunately, it came across as not wanting to help or even denying accountability or no emotion or things like that.”
Reid went on to ask the judge that she be allowed to serve her time in the county jail and be given resources to help her through the trauma.
Christopher’s family, who packed the courtroom in support of the child, begged for justice arguing that Hall’s failure to protect Christopher made her partly responsible for his death.
“No parent should ever have to bury their child,” Christopher’s father, Christopher Leader Sr. said sobbing. “I live with this everyday. We all, our whole family in this courtroom, need justice. She deserves everything she gets and so does he (Haar). The only way I get to see that boy anymore is a picture next to my bed with his urn. I don’t get to say good morning, good night, Happy Easter, Happy Birthday. … We need justice sir. That’s all I ask is for justice.”
Kristen Bell, Christopher’s grandmother, and Kenchetta Aldrich, Christopher’s aunt, who both traveled from Florida to testify, shared their grief with the court.
“His life was taken from him too soon,” Kristen Bell said. “He’ll never get to go to school. He’ll never get to dance. He’ll never get to go on a date. He’ll never graduate. He’ll never have another Easter or Christmas. His mother didn’t protect him.”
Like many others in the courtroom Monday, Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson was also emotionally affected by the case calling it one of the more difficult ones his office has had to deal with.
“A beautiful 2-year-old boy was beaten to death by the defendant’s boyfriend,” Doston said. “The medical examiner in this case described the fatal injuries as tears in the lower abdomen caused by blunt force trauma. Further examination of young Christopher’s body showed multiple bruises and injuries to his head all the way down to his genitals. Many of the bruises found on Christopher’s body were sustained in the weeks and days prior to his death.”
Dotson argued Hall be sent to prison for failure to protect her child and her unwillingness after the fact to work with law enforcement.
“She was never forthcoming and never showed any signs of remorse nor was she helpful in the investigation process. She always had an excuse or a counter to some of law enforcement’s questions,” Dotson said. “… The PSI notes it is striking to see the lack of emotion from the defendant, she shows a callous disregard for her involvement. I echo the sentiment in this report that the defendant needs to be held accountable for her horrific lack of care and nurturing that should have occurred in raising this innocent 2-year-old boy. But even more than that, she tried to get law enforcement to stop investigating by explaining away what was a horrific situation of child abuse – murder, your honor.”
While Hall initially said she wanted to speak to the court she later recanted her wish after hearing the comments from family and the county attorney.
“No matter how much time Brittany serves, it will never bring our baby back,” Tina Deuel, Christopher’s grandmother, said.
She shared her memories of Christopher’s laugh and smile reiterating that there is no getting that back no matter how much time Hall spends.
“His smile always brightened my day,” Deuel said, sharing about a game she use to play with him where she would pretend to bump her head just to see him laugh and smile.”No matter who met him or for how long, everyone loved that boy. “No matter what, I cry everyday knowing he should be here with us. My heart is broken and will never be the same. None of us will ever be the same without him.”
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