ST. GEORGE — A man was sentenced to prison Thursday after being convicted of stabbing a neighbor and his dog during an altercation in LaVerkin last summer.
Christian McKusick, 28, was sentenced in 5th District Court during a hearing held via video feed on one second-degree felony count of attempted aggravated assault and one misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals. A dangerous weapon charge was dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea.
McKusick was originally charged after a stabbing reported at a mobile home in LaVerkin in June 2019, where responding officers found a man and his dog injured.
During the sentencing, the defendant’s wife, Kyrie McKusick, pleaded for leniency for her husband.
In a letter to District Judge John J. Walton, she stated that at the time of the altercation, her husband was trying to protect her from being injured after the victim pulled a knife. However, in the police report, it was Christian McKusick who introduced the knife during the altercation, an issue that was contested throughout the proceedings and one that the defendant denied.
The wife also recounted an incident from June 2018, during which McKusick was serving time in prison on an unrelated charge and was jumped by two inmates. During the altercation, she wrote, he was stabbed 32 times. As such, she requested that the court “refrain from sending Christian to prison. That would be a death sentence for him.”
The 2018 prison incident was also relayed to St. George News by another person related to McKusick. The relative, who said he has a law enforcement background and preferred to remain anonymous, explained that since early childhood, McKusick “suffered insurmountable losses” while growing up in Las Vegas, many of which deeply affected the defendant.
He said those experiences are what ultimately placed him at a severe disadvantage as McKusick set out on his own, well before reaching adulthood.
The man said McKusick “doesn’t have a violent nature,” but he was “damaged from early on,” adding that the defendant was working on getting his life back together when the LaVerkin incident took place. He said prison “is not where Christian needs to be” and referred to the stabbing incident at the prison. “There’s no rehabilitation in that.”
Ultimately, Walton sentenced McKusick to serve 1-15 years in the Utah State Prison on the attempted aggravated assault charge, in addition to 180 days in jail on the animal cruelty offense. The terms were ordered to run concurrently, and both were ordered to be served in prison.
While Walton followed sentencing recommendations, the road to the ruling was anything but straightforward, as evidenced by the judge’s comments during the hearing.
Walton said he had not seen a case in recent memory in which the police report differs so much from the defendant’s version of the events.
Walton asked counsel how they wanted to proceed, given that the victim wasn’t present at court and the defendant described the incident as self-defense.
Prosecutor Jim Weeks responded by saying that even without a victim present, there were multiple inconsistencies in McKusick’s statements to police, including admitting to stabbing the man in the head but later saying he was only defending himself, telling officers the victim “forced himself upon the knife,” thus the victim “cut his own throat.”
Weeks also brought up the fact that McKusick ran immediately after the attack, telling officers he did so because he was a felon in possession of a knife.
“The defendant’s story just isn’t credible,” he said.
Weeks said numerous attempts at rehabilitating McKusick over the years have been unsuccessful and that the criminal justice system has been “a revolving door” for the defendant.
McKusick’s defense attorney, Michael Lastowski, countered by saying the stabbing took place while the two men were fighting, making a planned attack on the victim impossible.
Lastowski also referenced the stabbing incident in prison, explaining how that experience may have had an effect on the way in which the defendant reacted “when the knife came out.” The defense claimed this wasn’t a random event, but an incident that took place after a long history between the two men.
Lastowski said that since 2010, rather than being provided any rehabilitative efforts to help McKusick, the defendant “just goes straight to prison.”
While McKusick has a criminal history dating back to 2010, the cases involve drug and theft offenses, the defense argued, adding that this is the first case in which McKusick is accused of committing violence.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Walton referred to an index rating that evaluates the defendant’s childhood experiences using a scoring system, an analysis that revealed a score of “10 out of 10.”
McKusick has had “many challenges” in his life, and by his own admission, Walton said, the defendant needs treatment.
With that in mind, Walton explained “this is a difficult case,” particularly when balancing the defendant’s needs with those of the public, given what the judge called McKusick’s “horrible” history of violating parole.
“It’s clear McKusick needs help, and he is entitled to that help,” the judge said. But until the defendant receives the help he needs, he presents “too much of a risk to this community.”
During the hearing, McKusick said he has a family now, which he has never had before, and he conceded that his track record up to this point has been “very poor.” While he is concerned that he will be stabbed again in prison, he said he is committed to changing his life and proving to the court and his family that he can be successful.
The prison sentence was ordered to begin immediately, and the transport order was signed during Thursday’s proceedings.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.