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Suspect in shooting of Heber City 7-year-old denied release ahead of 2023 trial

The Rodriguez-Irizarry family
Zaydanielys "Zai" Rodriguez-Irizarry

Nearly a year after a young girl died from a bullet wound in Heber City, the suspected gunman was denied early release ahead of his March trial. But he could make a plea deal before the trial.

Christopher O’Connell was arrested last July after 7-year-old Zai Rodriguez-Irizarry was shot through her bedroom wall and killed in her bed. He’s been held without bail in the Wasatch County Jail since then, facing a March trial for four felonies, including first-degree murder, and three misdemeanors.

On Wednesday, O’Connell and his lawyer asked Judge Jennifer Brown of the Fourth District Court to lift his bail restriction. After hearing arguments from defense attorney Jeanne Campbell and Wasatch County deputy attorney Case Wade, Brown denied the request.

Campbell proposed the judge allow O’Connell to stay in a sober living community and wear an ankle monitor until the trial. She argued he shouldn’t be seen as a flight risk because of his family and long-term ties in the Heber area. She also said because the shooting was an accident, and O’Connell was intoxicated from alcohol and prescription medication at the time, he shouldn’t be considered likely to hurt anyone in the public.

Wade countered that while O’Connell should be presumed innocent until convicted, the circumstances of the case warranted keeping him in jail.

He said, “we have video evidence of it happening. We have a dead 7-year-old girl who can’t be here today to tell us what she wants to have happen.”

He argued that several factors show O’Connell could be a danger to the public if released. Wade said O’Connell also admitted firing a gun into the wall of his bedroom while allegedly cleaning it a week before the incident, and he’s suspected of firing another shot outside the night of the girl’s death.

As for the flight risk concern, Wade argued it could be difficult to keep him confined to an in-patient center.

Wade also said O’Connell has a history of substance abuse and a brain defect, which would make him less predictable if he were in public.

Brown left the courtroom for about 10 minutes before delivering her ruling. She said she denied the request in part because there was substantial evidence to support the charge, and the severity of his charges made him more likely to be a flight risk. She also said Wade had met the burden of proof that he would pose a danger to the public if released.

O’Connell returned to the county jail after the Wednesday hearing.

Wade said his office proposed a plea bargain. The offer would allow O’Connell to plea guilty to manslaughter, a second-degree felony. Wade told KPCW that would lead to a one to 15 years in prison. The state parole board would determine the exact length of the sentence.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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