ST. GEORGE – The atmosphere in the courtroom was heavy Thursday as the judge pronounced a 16 year to life sentence on 20-year-old Joshua Canfield for the 2014 murder of a neighbor.
Canfield pleaded guilty in January to killing 58-year-old Geraldine Bommerito. He was convicted on first-degree felony charges for murder and aggravated robbery, second-degree felony charges for arson and theft, and a class A misdemeanor charge for assaulting a police officer.
An additional year was added to the 15-year minimum as required by state law in a case involving the aggravated use of a firearm.
Canfield killed Bommerito on March 22, 2014, a few days before his 18th birthday. The prosecution called the act premeditated murder, while the defense argued the slaying was the tragic result of Canfield being swept up in a fit of drug-induced madness mixed with underlying mental illness.
“What we know about Mr. Canfield today is considerably different from what we knew at first,” Ed Flint, Canfield’s attorney, said as he and his client stood before Judge John Walton in 5th District Court.
In the period leading up to Bommerito’s death, Flint said Canfield had been suicidal and was on a drug binge. Having attempted suicide at one point and failing, Flint said his client went on a “crime rampage.”
During Canfield’s short-lived rampage, he stole two guns and some collectable coins from a residence in Toquerville. He then went to Bommerito’s home around midnight and knocked on her door. Bommerito and Canfield knew each other prior to the deadly incident. She was a neighbor and family friend.
Washington County Deputy Attorney Zachary Weiland said Canfield told police when he was at Bommerito’s door, he identified himself and told her her made her some cookies. When she opened the door, Weiland said Canfield shot Bommerito with one of the stolen guns, then shot her again with the other gun when the first jammed.
Canfield killed Bommerito so he could get access to her car in order to go see his girlfriend who lived 10 miles away, Weiland said.
“Mr. Canfield is an assassin,” Weiland said, adding that the murder was calculated and not the result of some drug-induced rage.
Weiland also referenced what Canfield wrote as part of a pre-sentencing report, calling it “nonsense.”
In the report, Canfield wrote he was trying to get away from the police because he saw them as being possessed by demons and that he had gone to Bommerito for help. However, when she opened the door, Canfield wrote that he believed his neighbor had also been possessed and ended up shooting her.
Canfield would go on to take Bommerito’s car that night, also claiming in the report that he lit it on fire near Springdale soon after because it too was possessed.
Weiland said Canfield set the car on fire as a way to try and get police off his trail.
“This was not a drug-induced hallucination,” Weiland said.
Police caught up with Canfield in Springdale where he became combative with officers before being taken into custody.
Prior to locating Canfield, police received a tip from a gas station in Washington City where Canfield had used the collectable coins. Authorities were given a description of the car Canfield was driving, which led them to Bommerito’s home. That is when Washington County Sheriff’s deputies found her body. The deputies were already in the area investigating the theft of the firearms and collectable coins.
“I came here for closure, but I don’t have any closure,” Ted Bommerito, Geraldine Bommerito’s brother said, as he addressed the court.
Geraldine Bommerito moved to Toquerville so she could be in a community where she didn’t have to lock her door, Ted Bommerito said. He also called Canfield’s actions premeditated and wanted the court to put him away for more than just a minimum of 16 years.
Canfield will likely spend many years in prison beyond the 16 year minimum, Walton said, yet added it would ultimately be left to the discretion of the Board of Pardons to decide how long he stays incarcerated.
“I’m hurting right now,” Ted Bommerito said. “Like I said, there is no closure on this.”
Also addressing the court at the sentencing were Canfield’s parents.
“My son is not a murderer, I know he’s not a murderer,” Robert Canfield, Joshua Canfield’s father, said as emotion filled his voice. “He got screwed up.”
As he understood it, Robert Canfield said his son had been on a drug binge for about six days leading up to the incident that claimed Geraldine Bommerito’s life. His girlfriend had dumped him and he became suicidal and fell in with the wrong crowd of friends. Family tried to help, but ultimately called the police.
They found Joshua Canfield and others using drugs in a van, resulting in his son and others running from the scene, Robert Canfield said.
The boy was out of this mind, Robert Canfield said, adding, “He needs help.”
He also didn’t believe that his son’s actions were premeditated, but were the result of the drug binge.
A woman who identified herself as Joshua Canfield’s mother echoed the sentiment. “It was not premeditated, it was drug induced,” she said, saying later, “Josh didn’t have it in him to do that.”
She said her son, when not strung out on drugs, was a kind and talented individual. He had also finished high school a year early and had obtained a certificate for welding.
Both Robert Canfield and Joshua Canfield’s mother expressed their sympathies and apologies for Geraldine Bommorito’s death to her brother.
“We’re so sorry about Gery,” Joshua Canfield’s mother said. “She was my friend … The whole town loved Gery,” she said.
Joshua Canfield’s mother said in a strange way Geraldine Bommerito saved her son’s life, because it was through the tragic incident of her death that her son’s mental condition was evaluated and treated. He might be dead today if not for that, she said.
When he was first arrested, Joshua Canfield’s behavior was bizarre and off-the-wall, Flint said. Questions over his mental competence and at least one additional suicide attempt while in jail ultimately led to Joshua Canfield being sent to the Utah State Hospital for treatment last year.
It was at the State Hospital that Joshua Canfield received his first mental evaluation and diagnosis, Flint said. He was subsequently put on medication to help restore his mental health.
“What we have now is a young man who has been restored to competency,” Flint said, adding Joshua Canfield will remain that way as long as he continues to receive treatment and medication while incarcerated.
“I made a big mistake,” Joshua Canfield said as he addressed the court. “I’m very sorry for what I did … I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused.”
Joshua Canfield also said he would try to make a better life for himself in prison, as well as in society if that possibility ever presents itself.
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