Man pleads guilty to shooting wife’s dad at church

Updated at: 11/12/2013 3:35 PM
PAUL FOY

(AP) SALT LAKE CITY - A man accused of shooting his wife’s father during a Roman Catholic Mass in Ogden has pleaded guilty to attempted murder and other charges and claimed he was having a psychotic episode during the attack.

Charles Richard Jennings Jr. could end up at the Utah State Hospital for rehabilitation, his public defender said Tuesday. Prosecutors dropped charges of aggravated robbery when Jennings accepted a plea deal on Thursday.

Jennings, 36, faces up to life in state custody when he is sentenced on Jan. 23 on charges of attempted murder, aggravated burglary and a firearms violation. Jennings pleaded guilty and mentally ill, allowing him under state law to be sent first to the state psychiatric center. If he’s successfully rehabilitated there, he’ll be returned to prison to serve out his sentences.

About 300 people were standing up for communion during Father’s Day Mass last June when Jennings entered St. James the Just Catholic Church holding his wife Cheryl’s hand.

Seconds later, police say, Jennings fired a single shot at the back of James Evan’s head. The gunshot pierced the silence, sending people diving for cover beneath pews.

Doctors have said the point-blank shot could have killed the 66-year-old father-in-law, but his wife, Tara Evans, has said he turned his head at the last moment. The bullet went through an ear and out a cheek, missing his brain. Doctors said Evans would need reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation to swallow and speak again.

Church officials said Tuesday that Evans’ jaw has been unwired and that he appears to have suffered no lasting damage. Evans and his wife are active members of the church. Jennings wasn’t a regular parishioner.

The Associated Press was unable to find a working phone number Tuesday for James and Tara Evans.

The defendant’s lawyer, Michael Bouwhuis, discounted early police reports that Jennings shot his father because he was feeling "disrespected."

No definite motive was established in the shooting, Bouwhuis said.

"It became apparent to me very quickly that he’s seems to be operating at a 10- to 12-year-old level, soft spoken and kind of timid. He wasn’t putting on an act," Bouwhuis said.

Four days after the shooting, hundreds of parishioners gathered to take part in a special Catholic ceremony, the Liturgy of Reparation, to cleanse evil from the place of worship.

Jennings has a criminal record going back to 1996, court records show. Over the years, he has pleaded no contest to felony charges of receiving a stolen vehicle and criminal trespassing, and pleaded guilty to theft charges and a felony charge of attempting to tamper with a witness or juror.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)