Imprisoned Utah teen Cooper Van Huizen released on parole
(KUTV) Cooper Van Huizen, who made international headlines as the 16-year-old sentenced to one to 15 years in the Utah State Prison for armed robbery, was released on parole Wednesday morning.Cooper, now 17, walked out of the Draper prison, where he was held for his Tuesday parole hearing, with his overjoyed mother and father. The teen spent more than two weeks in the prison, where older, hardened felons are locked up. He feared "being jumped or stabbed or [having] people take advantage of me,[taking] my stuff, sexual abuse.""This is hell," Cooper said of the prison. "You feel unsafe just being in there walking around."Cooper was eventually transferred to Daggett County Jail, a facility that does not hold violent offenders. His father, Marc Van Huizen, made the 300-mile round-trip at least once a week to visit him.In May, Cooper pleaded guilty to two counts of felony armed robbery in adult court. He told a member of the Board of Pardons and Parole on Tuesday afternoon that his past attorneys misguided him, leading him to believe the plea deal would protect him from serving time in prison. Cooper had expected a maximum of six months in juvenile detention with the opportunity to leave each weekday for school. Two of his co-defendants also pleaded guilty around the time of Cooper's plea and only received six months and seven months in jail.But Judge Ernie Jones considered the recommended sentence too lenient and sentenced Cooper to two concurrent terms of one to fifteen years in prison. A victim said that the group of boys had entered his home and demanded at gunpoint cash, electronics and marijuana. Cooper was also accused of planning other robberies. But Cooper claims he never plotted such crimes. He admits to providing his father's unloaded, heirloom guns to go shooting in Morgan. Cooper said he was naive and ended up with the wrong group of friends."They had an idea of something else that they told me, and, when I got there, another story went down," Cooper said. His mother, Mindy Van Huizen warned Cooper not to reveal any more details of the crime, as he is still appealing his case.Mindy and Marc spent the past few months filing appeals and organizing rallies for the teen's release. International supporters sent Cooper letters and donated to his legal defense."I knew that all my prayers had been answered," Marc Van Huizen said, standing beside his son minutes after his release.Cooper had not hugged his parents since May."I ran right to the gate, and I just grabbed him, and I just hugged him for as long as I could," Mindy Van Huizen said.Cooper and his parents left the prison for Ogden to meet with his parole officer. They then planned to take a ride out to Daggett County, to collect his belongings and see the scenery from the outside. All three also intended to thank the jail staff for taking care of Cooper."I feel amazing. It's nice to be out," Cooper said. "I haven't seen sun like this in too long."While Cooper prepares to go back to high school, he offered a message for other teens: "Do not ever come here. This is not a place you want to be. Make better choices in life."The goal of Cooper's appeal is to bring the case back to juvenile court, so that he can get rid of his felonies or at least have a juvenile record that would be eventually expunged.
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