Teen gets 10 years
Hovarter sentenced for killing 15 year old
By Robert Cloud
Judge Troy Nielsen sentenced Austin Hovarter to 10 years in prison.
Hovarter, who was convicted of first-degree reckless homicide in the shooting death of 15-year-old Jacob Peglow, appeared in court for sentencing Wednesday.
On July 26, 2017, Peglow, Hovarter and a 14-year-old boy were outside Hovarter’s home in Farmington shooting a .17-caliber rifle.
Hovarter, who was 17 at the time of the incident, told Deputy Jon Loken that when they finished shooting the gun, Peglow made sure the gun was unloaded and the safety was on.
They went inside the house and upstairs to the bedroom of Hovarter’s parents.
While Peglow and the other boy were examining an antique musket in the bedroom, Hovarter removed a .22-caliber handgun from an open safe and unholstered it.
Hovarter told Loken that he held the revolver up, slightly canted, to the right of his head in what he described as “a gangster display,” according to the criminal complaint.
Hovarter then pulled the trigger.
Peglow said, “Oh my god, you shot me!” He then ran downstairs and out through the east side door toward the driveway. The younger boy immediately followed behind Peglow.
Hovarter told Loken he returned the gun to its holster and placed it on a shelf next to the safe. He then ran after Peglow.
“I was at the scene. I was told it was an accident. I was told a gun had gone off,” District Attorney Veronica Isherwood said at the hearing.
Isherwood said Hovarter told Peglow’s mother they had been “messing around.”
After reading police reports and holding a John Doe hearing, Isherwood determined the shooting was not accidental.
She noted Hovarter took the gun from inside an open safe, removed it from its holster, held it with both hands, aimed it at Peglow and pulled the trigger.
Osherwood said there are multiple versions of what happened that day.
In one version, Hovarter and Peglow are “playing cops and robbers” and Hovarter is waving the gun around.
In the other version, as told by the 14-year-old boy, Hovarter pointed it straight at Jacob Peglow.
“He pointed the gun at another human being and pulled the trigger,” Isherwood said. ‘This was not an accident.”
Defense counsel Tom Johnson argued that Hovarter should be a candidate for probation rather than prison.
“Austin shouldn’t be sentenced as if it was intentional,” Johnson said, saying the justice system is based on what can be proved and not what can be imagines or suspected.
“It’s dark,” Johnson said regarding the tragic event. “My assertion is, let’s not make it darker.”
While explaining his sentence, Nielsen told Hovarter that he intentionally grabbed the gun from the safe, intentionally unholstered it, intentionally failed to check if the gun was loaded, intentionally pointed the gun at Peglow and intentionally pulled the trigger.
“Calling this an accident is just unimaginable,” Nielsen said. “An accident is something that’s unavoidable.”
Nielsen noted several questions regarding the incident remained unanswered.
“Did Austin know the gun was loaded or did he load the gun?” Nielsen said.
Nielsen said Collin Durrant, the gun’s owner, said he had not used it for 15 years and did not know if it was loaded.
Another witness said Hovarter had previously fired the gun and it was not loaded.
Nielsen suggested Hovarter was the person most likely to have loaded the gun.
“Why did Austin point the gun at Jake?” Nielsen said. “The idea that a 15-year-old and an almost 18-year-old would play cops and robbers, I just don’t buy it.”
Nielsen also revealed that Peglow’s former girlfriend had broken up with him just days before the incident. Social media showed Hovarter and the girl together.
The girl later told Peglow’s father that Hovarter had said it was her fault that Peglow was dead because she had refused Hovarter’s request to spend time together that day.
Nielsen said one possible interpretation of that accusation was that if Hovarter had been with the girl, he would not have been with Peglow.
“Maybe there was more of a sinister reason why Austin said that,” Nielsen said.
The judge said sentencing must take into account public safety.
Hovarter had received firearm safety training and knew what he should and should not do when handling the handgun.
When making his victim impact statement, Jim Peglow, Jacob’s father, described the TAB-K, the four basic firearm safety rules:
Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
Always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
Be certain of your target and what’s beyond it.
Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
“Austin violated every one of these firearm safety rules,” Peglow said.
“If you had all that training and still made those decisions … there is something tragically wrong with your thought process,” Nielsen told Hovarter. “My concern is that you will continue to do those things.”
In addition to 10 years of initial confinement, Hovarter will be on 10 years of extended supervision.
As a condition of supervision, Nielsen followed a recommendation from the Peglow family.
He ordered Hovarter to speak once per year at a Hunter’s Safety Course upon release and to write a $16 check to the Jacob Pegrow Memorial Fund every week while on extended supervision.
Nielsen also ordered that the $100,000 cash bond Hovarter’s family posted not be returned until after restitution and court costs are determined and paid.
After the hearing, Jim Peglow spoke to the press.
He said the sentencing did not close the book on this tragic experience.
“Truly, today just ends one chapter in a really long novel which really sucks for our family,” Peglow said.