CEDAR CITY — A former collegiate art lecturer who pleaded guilty to making threats has been sentenced to prison.

File photo shows Steven C. Baggs during a previous court appearance via WebEx from Iron County Jail, Cedar City, Utah, June 12, 2023 | Screenshot image courtesy of 5th District Court, St. George News / Cedar City News

Steven Charles Baggs, 47, was sentenced in Cedar City’s 5th District Court on Friday by Judge Matthew L. Bell, who handed down the maximum sentence for each of the eight counts and ordered the sentences to run consecutively. 

The total length of time Baggs will end up spending at the Utah State Prison will be up to the Board of Pardons, but the statutory sentencing guidelines put the range at between five and 40 years.

As previously reported, Baggs, who formerly taught art classes at Southern Utah University, was extradited to Utah to face multiple charges in June. 

On Sept. 25, as part of a plea agreement, Baggs pleaded guilty to eight counts, two from each of four separate cases. They included two second-degree felony counts of making threats of terrorism, two third-degree felonies (theft by extortion and possession of a firearm by a restricted person), two class A misdemeanors (assault on a peace officer and violation of a protective order) and two class B misdemeanors (threats of violence).

Addressing the court during his sentencing hearing, Baggs apologized for his behavior, which he attributed to a “prolonged manic episode.” 

“I want to apologize to my victims, the people that I’ve traumatized,” he said, “I feel terrible for what I’ve done. I’m so sorry. I feel terrible for any negative impact that I’ve had on their lives. I hope they can get the treatment that they need to overcome any trauma that I’ve caused and find the compassion in their hearts forgive me.”

Baggs said he would not have carried out any of the threats he made.

“I never would have acted out on anything,” he said. “I was just like in this dark place. I didn’t know what’s going on at the time.”

Added Baggs: “A lot of the people that I threatened, I respected, so I don’t understand it looking back. I beg for your mercy.”

Also asking for leniency was Bagg’s mother, Jean Baggs, who briefly addressed the court, saying, “We love Steve dearly. He is a good person. And he’s not a terrorist.”

“We are not proud of Steve’s conduct but we forgive him and pray that the people he offended will also forgive him,” Jean Baggs added. “Steve is smart and educated and knows better. He has told me he regrets his actions. I have prayed every day that Steve wasn’t in this situation. I beg for your mercy.” 

Public defender Steven Nielsen also spoke on his client’s behalf, saying, “I do not have any doubt that Mr. Baggs said some extremely bad and scary things, and that people had no choice to react to those threats. It is important to note that as bad as the statements were, he never carried out any of the threats, though he did slice the tires on the car of his wife’s boyfriend.”

Sceenshot image shows the sentencing hearing of Steven C. Baggs (far right), Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 17, 2023 | Image courtesy of 5th District Court via WebEx, St. George News / Cedar City News

Nielsen also provided a letter from Baggs’ counselor that spoke to Baggs’ state of mind during the time he made the threats.

“Obviously, words matter,” Nielsen said. “When we say words, we can’t unring the bell, as it were. And when words are put out into the world, we can’t control how people react to those things.”

Nielsen said his client did express “deep remorse” for how he made those affected feel.

“He couldn’t control how they reacted,” Nielsen added. “He certainly couldn’t, after making the threat, tell them he was just kidding and wasn’t going to do it. He couldn’t control what the reaction would be from these victims and from the victim statements. He affected a lot of people’s lives by his rather, dare I say, dumb comments that he made and that he should have not made.”

Added Nielsen: “I can’t imagine what the prosecutors felt, especially for someone to threaten their families … extremely inappropriate and extremely wrong. No one should have to experience that for simply doing their job.”

Nielsen asked the court for leniency, suggesting another 300 days in the Iron County Jail would be appropriate, with no credit for time already served, followed by an opportunity to be released to a mental health treatment program.

“Your Honor, if the court deems it is necessary to send Mr. Baggs to prison on these, I would simply request that the counts run concurrently one with another,” Nielsen added.

Following the defense’s statements, prosecutor David Hill then addressed the court, saying Baggs’ statements were much more than idle threats made in a moment of anger.

“I think prison is appropriate because of the specific and graphic nature of his threats,” Hill told the court, adding, “I’ve been an attorney for seven years. And I hesitate to say this, but frankly, I don’t think I’ve seen threats like this ever before. Reading through these messages — including to people that he purported to love — it at times left me sick to my stomach.”

Hill read aloud a chronological summary highlighting several examples of disturbing messages and threatening behavior exhibited by Baggs over a period of several months starting in November 2022. Included were specific threats to harm and kill others, including at least one suggestion that he might carry out a mass shooting on the SUU campus.

“The details are unnerving,” Hill said. “It’s one thing to threaten someone but his level of detail combined with the accompanying sexual derangement, it’s just plain terrifying.”

In one instance, he noted that Baggs sent an email to the personal account of a prosecutor’s wife, which read, “Too bad your husband has decided to endanger your entire family for pursuing someone based on lies … you will all die.”

Randall McCune, Cedar City’s city attorney, who spoke at the hearing via videoconference, said he and his family were threatened by Baggs shortly before they were getting ready to leave on a family vacation.

McCune said that it marked the first time he’d received such a threat in more than six years of prosecuting cases.

“Not once, have I ever felt the need to show a picture of a defendant to my children and say, ‘If you see this man, run!’” McCune said, “I’ve never done that. Not before, not since.”

McCune also pointed out the threats were persistent and took place over a period of months.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a manic episode extend for five or six months straight,” he said.

Stock image | Photo by Althom/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“With the level of victims, with the level of details and the consistency over a six-month period that he was threatening all of us, he needs to go to prison,” McCune added. “I hope for his sake he can get the mental health he deserves. But the rest of us don’t deserve to have our lives and our families at risk until he does.”

After McCune’s testimony, Hill then wrapped up the prosecution’s argument asking for the maximum allowable sentence.

Hill cited one victim impact statement indicating that Baggs’ threats had made them worried for their own safety.

“It said it worried us to the point that we were uncertain whether we wanted to press charges in this matter, as we are concerned that the defendant will simply get a slap on the wrist for his crimes, and then he’ll come and find us and exact vengeance,” Hill said.

“Yes, he needs to be punished for crimes,” Hill concluded. “But more importantly, he needs to be kept away from the public at large. As another victim stated, ‘I carry that fear of the unknown with me. Is he only biding his time? Will I be a target for the rest of my life?’”

Judge Bell then addressed Baggs directly prior to handing down the maximum sentence for each and every count. 

“You claim that these despicable actions are the result of a prolonged mental breakdown and you assert that you would never really hurt anyone,” Bell said, adding, “I don’t believe you.”

Added Bell:

Your viral threats spanned months, and your flight to avoid prosecution exacerbated the harm that those threats caused, the impact of those threats on so many people. You’ve been a convicted felon for decades. You illegally possessed a handgun and threatened to use it. Nothing about your behavior affords you the assumption that your plans to return to Cedar City were peaceful rather than carrying out threats or going out in a blaze of glory, as you so often indicated, was your very plan. 

Bell then called Baggs “an angry, self-centered, tantrum-throwing bully who relishes in the power of fear.”

“You focus exclusively on your own stresses, challenges, and perceived injustices,” Bell said. “And that drives you to demand that other people suffer and pay a price: torture or even give their very lives to right some perceived wrong of yours. You made those threats with no concern about the very injustice you are working upon so many people, many of them, with no idea who you were or why you are so angry.”

Bell added that Baggs had stolen his victims’ peace of mind for several months.

“The only thing that the court can do for them now is to incapacitate you to give them some peace of mind,” Bell said. “If prison frightens you, it pales in comparison to the terror that your threats have caused to so many people. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, the court finds prison is warranted and necessary for the safety of the community.”

Bell ordered that all of the sentences run consecutively and noted, “The Board of Pardons will ultimately determine your release date. But given the clear danger you present and your disregard for authority, as part of this court’s judgment, the court urges the Board of Pardons to exercise extreme caution in determining whether you should be afforded parole.” 

No fines or fees were imposed, although restitution was left open for the statutory period.

The court also noted that if Baggs should choose to appeal his sentence, he has 30 days to file a written notice.

Asked for comment following the hourlong hearing, Hill issued the following written statement:

The Iron County Attorney’s Office believes that the appropriate sentence was ordered in this matter. The harm that Mr. Baggs did to the community is difficult to fathom. He designed his threats to terrorize and manipulate those around him into getting what he wanted. We echo Judge Bell’s caution to the Board of Pardons when considering Mr. Baggs for release, as he presents a serious public safety concern.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.