Killer set free, capping nearly six years of emotions
Judge Bruce Lubeck on Monday freed Erik Low, the man imprisoned for shooting and killing Michael Hirschey after a night of partying and roughhousing, letting Low out of jail after an emotional court appearance that capped nearly six years of tears for the two families.
Low left the Summit County Jail at just before 1:30 p.m., shortly after his appearance in front of Lubeck. Low and family members marked his release with lunch at Szechwan Chinese Kitchen at Kimball Junction. His release came the day before his birthday.
"It’s a blessing I’m sitting here with my family," Low, 41, said in an interview at the restaurant.
Low had been incarcerated for most of the time since the May 8, 2003 shooting in a Kearns Boulevard apartment. Low shot Hirschey twice. Low maintains the killing was done in self-defense during a struggle between the two men. Prosecutors have said Low intentionally killed Hirschey, a champion wrestler who family and friends described as a well-meaning, fun-loving person. He was 38 years old when he was killed.
The release came the month after Low pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge as part of a deal with prosecutors. Summit County Attorney David Brickey, who led the prosecution, agreed that Low should be released.
Low was tried twice in the case, with the first jury unable to render a decision on an original murder charge filed against him. The jury in the second trial convicted him of manslaughter and he was sentenced to prison. The conviction was overturned on appeal, with Low’s side arguing the second jury was given faulty instructions. Brickey and Low’s attorney, Ken Brown, negotiated a plea bargain as a third trial approached.
Low did not address the courtroom on Monday. Low’s mother and sister were in the audience, as were Hirschey’s parents and some of his friends. Dareld Hirschey, the slain man’s father, told the courtroom the death was the "most devastating event in our lives" as he called Low an "evil person." He disagreed that Low’s time in prison suffices.
"Anything you do will not make up for that. We realize that," he said.
Lubeck indicated the approximately 1,713 days — roughly 4 1/2 years — Low served in prison was sufficient. People convicted of similar crimes typically serve six months to a year longer than Low did, the judge said. Lubeck said Low had behaved well as a prisoner.
He ordered Low to pay restitution, but an amount was not specified on Monday, and he must perform 100 hours of community service.
The judge also indicated state probation officials could order a curfew and electronic monitoring of Low. Lubeck placed him on probation for three years and said Low could not use alcohol or drugs nor have a gun while he is on probation.
He demanded Low write the Hirschey family a letter apologizing for the shooting within 21 days. Lubeck agreed with a request from Brickey that Low not contact the Hirscheys beyond the apology letter.
Low, who appeared in a red jail jumpsuit with his hands and legs in shackles, was led out of the courtroom smiling to his family. Outside, his mother, Michele Low, said he has "never been evil in his life," he had never hurt anybody before the shooting and the killing was after a "tragic night of drugs and partying." She encouraged people to stop using drugs.
Hirschey’s father said outside the courtroom Michael Hirschey was not a violent person, he was a "big tease," and he was "compassionate and courteous" to his wrestling opponents. His father remained unhappy with Low’s account of the shooting, saying Low lied about the circumstances. Low testified in the first trial but not in the second one.
"We don’t feel that was enough, but you have to go with the system," Dareld Hirschey said about Low’s time in prison. "We are accepting that, as hard as it is."
‘In one word, sorry’
Sometime in the next three weeks, Erik Low must sit down and consider what he will try to convey when he writes a letter to the family of Michael Hirschey, the man he shot and killed in a Park City apartment in 2003.
Judge Bruce Lubeck on Monday ordered Low to write an apology letter to the Hirschey family as a condition of his release from jail as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
In an interview with The Park Record soon after he was released, Low said he will tell the family in the letter the memory of the shooting continues with him.
"In one word, sorry. It’s not enough. I’d want them to know every day I think about what happened," Low said.
Low said he took classes while he was imprisoned meant to prepare inmates to approach the families of crime victims. What he learned in the classes will help him as he prepares the letter, he said.
"I wish Mike was alive and this never happened. I think about it all the time," Low said.
Low marked his release with a small family gathering at Szechwan Chinese Kitchen at Kimball Junction. He and his family arrived shortly after he was let out of the Summit County Jail. Low’s fortune cookie said, "Soon, someone will make you very proud."
Low moved into his mother’s Park City-area residence, and he said he plans to relocate to Salt Lake City. He said he looked forward to seeing a dog his mother bought him eight years ago.
He said he will look for a job quickly and plans to complete the college coursework he was taking while an inmate. He said he is one semester from completing an associate degree from Salt Lake Community College.
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.