ST. GEORGE — A local man charged in the attack of his 99-year old mother during an incident reported in 2022 recently appeared in court for sentencing on a first-degree attempted murder charge.

On Feb. 15, the defendant, 74-year-old Steven Sweat appeared before District Judge Keith C. Barnes for sentencing on first-degree felony attempted murder. He was also sentenced on aggravated cruelty to an animal and possession of marijuana and paraphernalia — each a misdemeanor.

The remaining charges, including third-degree felony count of forgery, possession of a dangerous weapon and possession of paraphernalia were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Early-morning incident, June 2022

2017 file photo for illustrative purposes only of St. George Police responding to a Dixie Downs neighborhood in St. George, Utah, Sept. 6, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

The case was filed following an incident reported in the early-morning hours of June 29, 2022, when officers were dispatched to a residence on North Dixie Downs Road. A 911 caller told emergency dispatch that a woman was banging on her front door and screaming for help.

When she opened the door, she said her 99-year-old neighbor told her “her son was trying to kill her,” according to the probable cause statement filed at the time of the arrest.

While en route, officers were notified that the suspect, later identified as Sweat, had a knife, the report states. When police arrived, they found Sweat sitting on the front porch near the main entry door of the residence screaming and yelling, and also noted he had a cut to his abdomen. The suspect’s mother was standing nearby trying to calm him down.

Officers recovered a knife with a 10-inch blade from underneath one of the bushes in the carport area near the dwelling. During an interview, the suspect told officers he grabbed his mother by the neck and “attempted to strangle her to death.”

When asked what his intention was at the time, the suspect said “he had intended to kill her,” and only released her after she begged him to stop. He grabbed her throat again, he said, and as soon as he  released his grasp, she was able to run from the home and summon help from the neighbor.

File photo of Best Friends Pet Super Adoption, St. George, Utah, April 26, 2013 | Photo by Sarafina Amodt, St. George News

Sweat also told investigators he had grabbed his small Chihuahua dog by the neck and attempted to kill it by strangling it. When the dog fought back, Sweat said he let go of the animal.

The homeowner told officers her son was her caretaker and that if he was taken away, she was afraid she would be placed in a retirement home. Officers also noticed red marks on the elderly woman’s neck.

The suspect was arrested and booked into jail on an assault charge that was enhanced to attempted murder after officers found two previous domestic violence-related cases filed against the suspect. Information indicating that Sweat, by his own admission, “twice attempted to strangle her to death” and squeezing “to kill her,” aided in the enhancements.

He remained in custody in Washington County while the case moved through the courts with a series of mental health evaluations and court hearings that continued for the next 20 months.

During the sentencing hearing, Prosecutor Jerry Jaeger represented the state and said the presentence report provided a sentencing range that included a prison term, which he said was appropriate, since “this was a very serious attack” on the defendant’s mother.

Jaeger told St. George News that following the incident, the defendant’s mother went to live with another child who cared for her until her death. The prosecutor went on to say she died while her son, Sweat, was in jail awaiting trial.

He also said this was a very tragic case, being that Sweat took good care of his mother for years, an arrangement that worked out very well until that night in June of 2022.

This booking photo shows Steven Sweat, 74, of St. George, who appears for sentencing on attempted murder following an attack in 2022 | Booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, June 29, 2022 | Booking photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

“They actually had a close relationship and things worked out well for many years,” he said.

That was until the defendant’s mental health and cognitive condition went into a rapid decline, which required medication. It was during this time that the attack took place, and Jaeger said it was the state’s opinion that Sweat likely became unstable when he stopped taking his medication as prescribed.

Either way, Jaeger said, the main focus during the hearing was to ensure that Sweat would be placed in a secured facility where he could receive mental health services.

Ryan Stout, Sweat’s defense attorney, told the court the attempted murder charge did not require a prison sentence, and said the presentence report also gave a range that included probation at the low end, likely due to his client’s minimal criminal history prior to the present case.

He also said his client was “obviously in a manic episode” when the incident took place, adding that Sweat has since been stabilized on medications while in jail.

Stout went on to say that even while physicians at the jail were attempting to stabilize the inmate by modifying his medications at the jail, the process resulted in his client experiencing a manic-like episode before any therapeutic balance was achieved.

Stout also said that while he would normally make a strong case for probation, he believed that Sweat would not do well on his own, as his client has no one that can help him. That said, Stout asked the court to consider sentencing his client into one of the geriatric units at the prison, or some other type of state facility. 

Sweat also spoke, saying he has been homeless before, and asked that he be allowed to live in his Jeep and to support himself with his social security check.

Prior to the ruling, the judge said that at this point, the difficulty in this particular case was to determine the best place to house the defendant, while making it clear that the only appropriate sentence for the charge of attempted murder “is prison,” Barnes said.

2007 file photo of Utah State Prison, Draper, Utah, June 2007 | Public domain photo, St. George News

The judge then sentenced Sweat to serve three years to life at the Utah State Prison. He also ordered the defendant to serve the maximum sentence on the animal abuse and possession charge, sentences that would run concurrently.

Barnes also said he would send a recommendation to the Board of Pardons and Parole that they consider placing the defendant in the state hospital, if not now, then possibly when a bed becomes available.

Or in any other location that is as secure as a prison facility “that would be able to assist with any treatment that is necessary, both medical as well as mental health.” 

Barnes also said he would recommend that Sweat, who has remained in custody since his arrest on June 29, 2022, be given credit for the time he has already served. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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