Mom has faith in appeal of 16-year-old's prison sentence

(KUTV) A 16-year-old Ogden boy sent to prison despite accepting what he thought was a more lenient plea deal is fighting his sentence.
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Cooper Van Huizen's latest attorney - his third - Elizabeth Hunt, filed motions this week to appeal his sentence and to seek his release on bond pending the appeal. Hunt hopes to recall the case to juvenile court, where it began.

Cooper is serving one- to fifteen-year term. He was initially being held in the Utah State Prison in Draper, but he was later transferred to Daggett County Jail.

Judge Ernie Jones of Ogden's 2nd District Court is expected to rule on the motions in 60 days.

"I'm very hopeful. I'm not going to lose faith, I'm not going to lose hope," said Cooper's mother, Mindy Van Huizen. "I hope that somebody sees the light and sees the wrongness in this. This is too harsh of a sentence for a boy with no record."
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Cooper pleaded guilty in adult court to two charges of second-degree felony robbery.

In November, the high school junior had taken his father's unloaded guns and went with other teens to a Roy home, where the group robbed two people at gunpoint.

Cooper admitted to stealing his father's guns but denied playing an active role in the crime.

"Cooper is a good kid," his mother said. "He is very remorseful of his situation, what he put himself through, what he put the victims through."
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Advised by his parents and Roy Cole - his previous attorney - Cooper agreed to a plea deal that Weber County prosecutors offered and prepared himself for six months in a juvenile detention facility with the privilege of leaving for school each weekday.
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Judge Jones, however, considered the recommended sentence too lenient and sentenced Cooper to two concurrent sentences of one to fifteen years in a Utah state prison. Two other teens pleaded guilty, too, but only received six months and seven months in jail.

"That's what we agreed upon and we wouldn't have had Cooper do that if we had known they were going to change their tune in the end," Mindy said. "That was the most horrifying day of my life. When I heard that judge's ruling, I just busted out bawling."

At the time, Cole filed a court declaration, telling Jones he had had confidence in the plea agreement and had assured the family that Cooper would not go to prison.
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"I advised Cooper to accept the plea agreement and plead guilty to the felonies," Cole wrote. "I fully expected that he would earn the double 402 reduction after a successful probation, and have no felonies on his record... I believed there would be no prison sentence..."

In a notice of appeal filed Tuesday, Hunt, too, outlined issues with the case including Cooper's misinformation about his plea deal and a lack of helpful legal advice. She also questioned the adult system's ability to help her client.

"At times since he was sentenced, Van Huizen has been held in highly draconian circumstances in the prison, in solitary confinement on death row, because the prison staff are not equipped to house and protect minors who are as young and unsophisticated as Cooper," Hunt wrote. "At present, he is living in direct contact with multiple adult offenders in a county jail that is approximately a three hour drive one way from his parents and family and counsel."
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Mindy fears for her son's physical safety and his mental stability. She said her son has lost weight and misses his family and his dog. She tries to visit him each weekend but doesn't have the time or money to go more frequently.

"I just dream about the day that I get a call and I go pick him up and bring him home," Mindy said. "And hold him and tell him everything's going to be okay."

A rally has been organized for Cooper's freedom at the Utah State Capitol on July 16 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By: Christine McCarthy

Follow Christine on Twitter @ReporterXtine

(Copyright 2014 Sinclair Broadcasting Group.)

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