Ogden teen’s armed robbery case subject of special Utah Supreme Court hearing
Cooper Van Huizen, who was not in attendance, was 16 years old when he was convicted in Ogden’s 2nd District Court for his role in the robbery.
Attorneys for the defendant and the state debated whether or not Van Huizen received a fair trial.
The Utah Court of Appeals ruled in February 2017 that Juvenile Court Judge Michelle Heward had an appearance of a conflict of interest in deciding whether Van Huizen should be tried in adult court because her husband, Gary Heward, was chief criminal deputy in the Weber County Attorney’s Office.
The appeals court ruled that Gary Heward was involved in Van Huizen’s prosecution to a degree, which “created an appearance of partiality.” The court remanded the case back to the juvenile court system.
The state appealed the ruling, which is what brought the case to Logan on Monday morning.
Van Huizen’s attorney, Elizabeth Hunt, argued the mere possibility of a conflict of interest is reason enough for a new trial, a point that Assistant Solicitor General Christopher Ballard rejected. Ballard said there was no way to tell whether the chief criminal deputy had a direct influence on the outcome of the case.
The arguments lasted about an hour. Justices will rule on the case in the coming months.
Van Huizen was the youngest of the group that invaded a Roy home and robbed the occupants of cash, a cellphone and marijuana, court records said. He did not orchestrate the robbery or wield a gun in it, but he deserved to spend time in prison because he supplied guns from his family’s home and the victims feared for their lives, District Judge Ernie Jones said.
After a plea bargain, Jones sentenced the teen to one to 15 years in prison on two second-degree felony aggravated robbery charges. Van Huizen served about six months in prison before being paroled.
Monday’s hearing was the first time USU played host to supreme court arguments, said university President Noelle Cockett during her opening remarks.
“Thank you for giving us a peek into the court system,” she said to the justices seated behind her.
The event also saw the oral arguments for Teamsters Local 222 v. Utah Transit Authority, which calls into question whether or not UTA workers have the ability to collectively bargain.