TWIN FALLS — When Scott David Steel was 23 years old, he was sentenced to life in prison for stabbing a man four times and dumping his body over a cliff.
Thirty-four years later, Steel stood in a Twin Falls County courtroom, telling the story of the day, more than three decades ago, that he murdered another man while hitchhiking in Montana.
Steel, now 57, had one goal while in prison, he told the court Tuesday morning: not to die there. He was released from prison in 2010 after spending a total of 23 years behind bars; during a brief period of parole in the middle of his sentence, he fled to Mexico, was caught, and went back to prison.
Now he’ll serve at least ten more years in prison for threatening a Twin Falls woman with a knife.
Steel was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in November, just five months after he was taken off parole for his murder conviction, and found guilty by a jury in May.
Witnesses told police he threatened a female bartender at Mia’s Place, an acquaintance of Steel’s who he had a personal conflict with, after she told him to leave the bar.
The woman, Jessica Silva, said that after she asked Steel to leave, he stuck a knife into the bar and asked her: “What are you going to do about it?” As he left the establishment, witnesses said, he mentioned his prior murder conviction.
Steel offered a different version of events at the sentencing hearing Tuesday, saying the threat was a joke and that he had no intention of hurting anyone that night.
“I went to prison when I was such a young man, and...it changed me,” Steel told the court. “It made me something that just doesn’t fit in with this society or any person around here. I understand that.
“I know my sense of humor is morbid, and I know that I am rough around the edges,” he continued. “But I am so much softer and smoother [now], and it’s taken so much time.”
None of the witnesses who testified at the trial, however, said they saw the incident as a joke — or saw Steel as a “drunken idiot,” as he described himself. Judge John Butler noted this disparity in explaining his sentence, and told Steel that regardless of intention, he should have known better than to jokingly threaten someone while holding a knife.
“Even if I give you the benefit of the doubt, for someone such as yourself to walk into a bar with a drawn knife and to threaten anyone in any way clearly depreciates the seriousness of this offense,” Butler said. “Whether you intended or not, for me, is not really the issue.”
The hearing also featured a victim impact statement from Silva, who said she had stopped working nights out of fear since the incident.
“These last eight months have been hell for me,” she said. “I’m terrified. I just don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”
Steel addressed the victim after she spoke.
“I didn’t know that I hurt her like this, but she’s convinced me,” he said. “I’m sorry, Jessica. I don’t know what else to say. Sentence me.”
The state’s attorney, Kiel Willmore, requested the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, with no chance of parole.
“There is no guarantee that Mr. Steel did not intend to do harm that night,” Willmore said. “There is no guarantee that he will not intend to do harm if released.”
Defense attorney Benjamin Andersen requested a much lesser sentence — “somewhere in the nature of five to ten” — and asked Butler to consider giving Steel a rider program sentence.
“He can be an asset to the community,” Andersen said.
Steel will serve at least 10 years in prison, with a maximum of 20, Butler decided. He will also pay two fines: $1,000 for court costs, and $2,500 to the victim for committing a crime of violence.
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