SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man pleaded guilty to aggravated murder Wednesday in the 2018 death of a 15-year-old girl, admitting he killed her in her Salt Lake home after she broke up with him and planned to report him to police.
West High School student Baleigh Bagshaw was on the phone with her mother when she returned home from school on May 7, 2018, to find Shaun Patrick French at her family’s house. French admitted waiting alone for her inside, where he stabbed her and slit her throat.
French, 26, entered the guilty plea Wednesday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court, part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. In exchange, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office will not to seek the death penalty and agreed the remaining charges against French will be dismissed.
The plea deal stipulates French will spend life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutor Richard Pehrson said Baleigh’s family approved of the agreement.
In a statement of facts supporting his guilty plea, Michael Misner, French’s defense attorney, said his client knowingly caused Baleigh’s death without justification and to prevent her from testifying or to prevent evidence from being used.
Misner said his client began a sexual relationship with Baleigh when she was 14 and it continued on and off for over a year. When the girl broke up with him in March, he tried to persuade her to get back together, even though he knew her age.
Baleigh’s family informed French he was no longer welcome at their home, where he had lived for a time. But French refused to accept the breakup, Misner said, and the family called police.
“The defendant learned he was about to be reported, got in his car and drove back to Utah,” Misner said.
In order to silence the girl, he waited with a knife in her house and attacked her, nearly decapitating her when she arrived home, Misner said. When he left the house, he tracked blood out the door, discarding the knife in her backyard.
French was arrested in southeast Colorado following a two-day manhunt.
Investigators said French had harassed Baleigh online after their relationship ended. Before her death, he had a friend create a Facebook account that was then used to send intimate pictures of Baleigh to her mother, police said.
Shawna Bagshaw has said her daughter loved her two pet dogs and dreamed of someday training others for therapy or to help with search-and-rescue efforts.
Four years before her death, Baleigh’s father died of liver failure. She had inherited his love of bands AC/DC, Kiss and Nirvana. She also was excited to become an aunt to a baby niece, Bagshaw said.
On Wednesday, a shackled French wore a yellow jail uniform and glasses, replying “guilty, your honor,” when the judge asked for his plea.
Before entering his plea on Wednesday, French said he had reviewed a plea form with his defense attorney but there were some things he didn’t agree with. He said he wanted to go forward nevertheless.
“Your honor, to be honest it’s either this or the death penalty,” he said.
At the urging of Judge Paul Parker, French and his lawyer left the courtroom to review the paperwork. They crossed out one sentence with details about the murder.
In the courtroom, French asked how a jury in a death penalty case could ever be impartial if they must be open to approving capital punishment for a defendant. Parker said those jurors must be committed to weighing facts and evidence and not to a certain outcome.
French paused again to talk with Misner about the possible sentence he may face if he were to go on trial, compared to the plea agreement.
“This is the only thing to do,” he said when the judge asked if the guilty plea was in his best interest. “Yeah. It’s either this or die.”
This story will be updated.