Judge throws out plea deal; Ogden teen sentenced to prison

Posted at 10:48 PM, May 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-13 14:10:19-04

DRAPER, Utah -- An Ogden teenager's family is speaking out after a judge handed down a harsher sentence than recommended in a robbery case.

Last November, 16-year-old Cooper Van Huizen stole his father's gun, which family members claim he was going to use for target practice with friends. But the Weber County Attorney says the weapons were part of a burglary at a home in Roy that involved four other men, including juveniles and adults.

The two residents weren't hurt but had guns pointed at their heads. Prosecutors say Cooper Van Huizen didn't point a weapon at anyone but he supplied the guns. Prosecutors say evidence showed the teenager planned to commit other similar crimes.

His family and attorney deny that.

Prosecutors charged the teen as an adult in December. Van Huizen could have received five years to life on aggravated robbery charges but took a plea deal to felony robbery charges, thinking he would receive 180 days in jail.

The other juvenile co-defendant took the same plea deal and his sentence was suspended to 210 days.

Instead, Judge Ernie Jones felt the 180 days recommended by Adult Probation and Parole was too soft considering the circumstances so last Thursday, Judge Jones handed down a harsher sentence of two terms of 1-15 years on each robbery conviction.

Cooper Van Huizen pleaded for mercy and cried as the bailiff took him away.

The teen’s parents sobbed in the court gallery as well.

His parents say they were under the impression there would be no prison time under the plea deal and would have never taken it had they known how severe the punishment would be. But the judge has the discretion to agree with the recommended sentence or choose a harsher penalty under the law.

Cooper's father, Marc Van Huizen, believes his son should serve time but not as long and not at the state prison in Draper where Cooper Van Huizen, a teenager, with no criminal record, is in the highest level of maximum security.

"Where they've placed him in the protective custody wing in prison amongst death row inmates is totally inconceivable for a first-time offender and a young boy who's 16 years old," Marc Van Huizen said. "It's a 23-hour lockdown and at that point my son won't have any interaction with anyone but the guards."

"I'm sure it's devastating for the family," said Weber County Attorney Dee Smith. "They can spin it however they want but the reality is this was planned, guns were stolen, they entered a home put a gun to somebody's head and you know there are consequences for that. If anything he probably got off easy for what he could have been facing -- five years to life."

Smith couldn't explain why the juvenile co-defendant had his sentence suspended to 210 days but presumed that the judge felt there were aggravating circumstances in Cooper Van Huizen's case.

The Van Huizens are trying to raise money on a Facebook page for their son's legal defense. They have a new attorney and plan to appeal.