A man once facing five-to-life in prison for attempted murder was sentenced to probation in 1st District Court on Wednesday.
“I feel horrible about what happened that night,” Ethan Drake Mortensen told the court prior to sentencing. “I just became irresponsible and got too drunk … and I paid for it.”
Mortensen, 21, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree aggravated assault on Jan. 20. The charge was reduced from a first-degree count of attempted murder, and three additional class-A misdemeanors were dismissed.
Despite a recommendation for probation by Adult Probation and Parole, Cache County prosecutor Dane Murray asked the court to impose a sentence 1-15 years in the Utah State Prison. Murray said there were concerns regarding victim safety as well as Mortensen’s “violent tendencies” and alcohol use.
Murray explained Mortensen committed a violent offense while on probation for a similar, prior offense involving the same victim.
The victim in the case briefly addressed the court on Wednesday, stating a prison sentence was “too harsh.” He said prison should be imposed as a “last resort” after Mortensen had probation and treatment opportunities.
“He’s a great person,” the victim said, “he just can’t drink.”
Defense attorney Ryan Holdaway argued in favor of probation and told the court prison may cause more harm than good.
Judge Brian Cannell imposed probation with various provisos and a “zero tolerance” policy. Cannell said he would not hesitate to send Mortensen to prison if he failed to comply with court orders.
Holdaway told The Herald Journal Mortensen was ordered to serve three more additional days before he will be released, serving a total of 260 days in jail. Though Mortensen was hoping to be released on Wednesday, Holdaway said the sentence was suitable.
“I think it was an appropriate outcome,” Holdaway said, explaining the sentence was intending to strike a balance between accountability and prevention.
Holdaway said the initial facts released in the case turned out not to be entirely true — possibly as a result of the witness in the case changing statements or other hasty procedures. Now, Holdaway said, Mortensen will have reports of an attempted murder charge as a part of his history, “which is something that he probably never actually did.”
“He’s actually a pretty level-headed guy,” Holdaway said, “he just needs to not be involved with alcohol.”
Mortensen was arrested and booked into the Cache County Jail on July 9 for an assault that happened earlier that morning. Prosecutors alleged the victim entered a garage, found Mortensen to be drinking and an altercation ensued. The alleged victim sustained a defensive wound to his palm from a hatchet, according to prosecutors, and Mortensen himself sustained lacerations. Mortensen had a blood alcohol concentration of .273, according to an affidavit filed with the court.
The affidavit states a witness to the altercation tackled Mortensen to prevent further harm to the victim. The witness told the court during a preliminary hearing that Mortensen attempted to stab him as well while being held on the ground — a claim Mortensen vehemently denied during the hearing.
Holdaway argued in a motion for Mortensen’s pretrial release that the witness “gave a testimony that was substantially different from what had previously been provided to police and to the news outlets.”
The witness said during the preliminary hearing he never audibly heard Mortensen threaten to kill the victim — though the victim made note of such threats at sentencing — and he never actually saw Mortensen swing the hatchet. There is no mention in the probable cause affidavit of Mortensen attempting to stab the witness.
The witness was also arrested on July 9 on suspicion of obstructing justice. Documents filed with the court state he removed a backpack from the crime scene after receiving instruction from police not to touch evidence. However, formal charges were never filed.