PROVO, Utah — A Provo woman who police say was raped, bludgeoned and left for dead after a jail inmate walked away from a work release program told the Utah Supreme Court on Thursday the jail was irresponsible. County officials, meanwhile, argued there was nothing indicating the prisoner would be violent.
Lawyers for the victim asked the high court to open the way for her to sue the county jail for releasing her attacker, Shawn Michael Leonard, to work at a manufacturing plant.
They argue the jail had lowered its standards before the 2010 attack, allowing more dangerous inmates to participate in the program after it became a success, said attorney Scott Bell. He said inmates had walked away from work release assignments before.
"It was just a ticking time bomb, in our opinion, that something like that would happen," he said.
The Utah County says nothing indicated Leonard, who was serving time on a drug conviction, was capable of attacking the woman. If the lawsuit goes forward, it could hamper programs that give other inmates valuable work skills to help them stay out of jail in the future, attorney Peter Stirba said.
"We want to rehabilitate prisoners. We don't want recidivism. We know there's a risk in doing that, but that's a risk society is willing to take," he said.
A lower court dismissed the lawsuit against the jail and the company where Leonard was working in 2012, ruling that they didn't have a legal duty to the victim because there wasn't a specific threat against her. Her attorneys appealed and the case appeared Thursday before the Utah Supreme Court. No deadline was immediately set for the high court to make a ruling in the case.
The woman was a 19-year-old student at Utah Valley University out jogging along the Provo River Trail when Leonard attacked her in June 2010. Police say he demanded money, then chocked her and beat her with a rock and a concrete block. When the woman regained consciousness hours later, she had to crawl to the trail for help.
Authorities say he robbed a children's clothing store, holding the clerk at knifepoint, the same day. Leonard, 39, is serving a prison sentence of life without parole after pleading guilty to attempted murder, robbery and kidnapping charges.
Bell said the victim has faced a long recovery from serious physical and emotional injuries she suffered in the attack.
"This was the worst thing that could happen to anyone, essentially," he said.
The Associated Press doesn't typically identify victims of sexual assault.