Murder-suicide shows challenges facing veterans, courts

Editor’s note:  Brian Clubb first posted this story in the LinkedIn group Veterans in Justice.

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suicide

In this photo provided by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office shows Johnathon Reeves. Reeves, a Utah veteran who seemed to be doing well in a newly formed court program before he killed himself along with his fiancee and their son is a tragic illustration of the challenges facing returning veterans and how courts handle them, the Salt Lake County prosecutor said Wednesday, June 10, 2015. (Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A Utah veteran who seemed to be doing well in a newly formed court program before he killed himself, his fiancee and their son is a tragic illustration of the challenges facing returning veterans and how courts handle them, the Salt Lake County prosecutor said Wednesday.

Johnathon Reeves, 30, entered veteran’s court after he threatened to kill his fiance and her children last year, according to court documents. He was one of about a dozen people in the months-old program that connects military veterans with mental health and substance abuse treatment under the close supervision of a judge as an alternative to extended time behind bars.

“I wish I could say to you there were some telltale signs,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “Everyone who interacted with him saw nothing but signs of making progress and success.”

But on Sunday, police say that Reeves apparently shot 34-year-old Jaime Salazar and their son, 2-year-old Jordan Reeves, inside a Murray apartment complex before killing himself on Sunday afternoon.

“He was hurting deep inside,” his mother, Doris Reeves, told the Deseret News in a brief email Tuesday. “His pain was too great and it broke him.”

The following day, court staff called all 15 people in the close-knit program to check in, said court administrator Richard Schwermer. Staff started reviewing the case to see if anything could be improved.

Veterans’ courts follow a model similar to drug courts and homeless courts and have been sprouting up across the country since the program was adopted in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008. Many veteran defendants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and have trouble finding their way back into society, sometimes self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner, who oversees a similar federal program, told a state legislative panel in 2013.

Reeves served as a water treatment specialist for about six years in the U.S. Army and Texas Army National Guard, according to Army records. He was deployed to Iraq from October 2007 to January 2009.

Reeves entered a plea that allowed him to enter the program in January and saw a judge weekly. He was scheduled to follow a court-mandated treatment plan for three years.

The participants also agree to allow police to contact them any time of day or night, and are barred from possessing guns. All the participants now in the Salt Lake County program have served some jail time, Schwermer said.

Gill declined to specify the details of the plan, but he said that Reeves was following the steps and other veterans looked to him as an example.

If he’d stayed in the regular court system and been convicted, Reeves could have faced up to five years in prison on each of the nine felony counts, but Gill said incarceration could have worsened the situation.

“How many times have we jailed people and they’ve out and harmed people?” he said. “It’s a temporary solution.”

Veteran’s court, he said, provides support to target underlying problems that are only becoming more common as service members return home after a decade of war.

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This story has been corrected to show the man’s first name is spelled Johnathon, not Jonathon.