Aggravated Murder Charges For Utah Uncle Who Kidnapped 5 Year old Niece

An uncle who is the prime suspect in the kidnapping of a 5 year old Utah girl has been arrested for aggravated murder and other charges related to his niece’s disappearance.

Missing child

Photo by: DPP Law

The family of 5 year old Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley woke up the morning of Saturday May 25, 2019 to discover the front door to the family home open with their 5 year old no where to be found. Also missing was the 21 year old uncle of Shelley who had stayed the night at the family’s home the night before. After hours of searching, 21 year old Alex Whipple was located walking miles away from the home with no sign of his 5 year old niece. Police detained Whipple as a suspect in the girl’s disappearance, yet could find no trace of the child for several days.

Criminal evidence located

While searching for Shelley, law enforcement from several agencies located several items belonging to Shelley with DNA evidence on them as well as a knife covered in blood. This evidence combined with Whipple’s DNA and fingerprints was considered enough to charge Whipple with aggravated murder, despite the fact that Shelley’s body had not been located yet.

Aggravated murder

Even without a body to confirm that the young child had indeed been killed by her uncle, investigators determined that the evidence against Whipple supported a charge of aggravated murder, a crime more serious than homicide. According to Utah Code 76-5-202, some of these circumstances that could enhance criminal homicide to aggravated murder include:

  • If the homicide was done to prevent someone from being a witness to a crime;
  • If someone else was in grave danger besides the actor and victim;
  • If the actor was previously charged for a similar crime;
  • If the actor had already been charged for another aggravated crime or a serious crime against a child;
  • If the homicide happened while the actor was incarcerated;
  • If the homicide occurred due to the use of a weapon of mass destruction;
  • If the victim was under 14 years old;
  • If “the homicide was committed incident to one act, scheme, course of conduct, or criminal episode during which the actor committed the crime of abuse or desecration of a dead human body.”

While there are several more factors that could enhance charges to aggravated murder, Whipple, likely had his charges enhanced due to the young age of Shelley and the fact that he had moved her body in an attempt to disclose her location from authorities.

Capital and non capital felony

Aggravated murder could be charged as a noncapital first degree felony if no death penalty is sought. According to section 76-3-207.7, “A person who has pled guilty to or been convicted of first degree felony aggravated murder . . . shall be sentenced [to]:

  • life in prison without parole; or
  • an indeterminate prison term of not less than 25 years and that may be for life.”

Aggravated murder can be a capital felony “if a notice of intent to seek the death penalty has been filed . . . “ as stated in Section 76-5-202. Section 76-3-206 states “A person who has pled guilty to or been convicted of a capital felony shall be sentenced [with:]

  • . . . an indeterminate prison term of not less than 25 years and that may be for life;
  • . . . life in prison without parole.” or
  • death.

Death penalty or location of remains

Once Whipple heard the charges of aggravated murder from his attorney, he agreed to tell authorities where young Shelley’s body was in order to ensure the death penalty would be taken off the table. After several days of searching for Shelley with no luck, authorities agreed to his terms. Whipple told his attorney where to find Shelley and soon after her lifeless body was found less than a block away from her home. While many are angry that Whipple is not facing the death penalty, the trade for information on Shelley’s whereabouts was approved by her family who desperately needed closure. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley’s funeral is scheduled for Monday June 2, 2019, a day before Whipple appears before a judge in court.

Homicide Charges Possible For Utah Employees and Customers who Detained Shoplifting Suspect

Employees and customers at an Ace Hardware in Salt Lake City, Utah may be facing homicide charges after they detained a shoplifting suspect who later died.

Stopping a shoplifter

An employee at an Ace Hardware in Salt Lake City was working their shift when they noticed a man putting store merchandise items in his pockets. That employee attempted to confront the shoplifter but was unsuccessful as the shoplifter quickly fled the store. As he was rushing out, he was met by another employee who with the help of another employee and a couple bystanders detained him physically. Police officers arrived and put the suspect in handcuffs before they noticed he was not breathing. Officers then performed CPR and the suspect was whisked off to the hospital instead of jail where he later died.

Shoplifting

When someone is found to be shoplifting, the store owner or manager can document the crime and show it to the police after the fact to have the person arrested at a later time. They may also attempt to stop the crime from happening, even by detaining the suspect. Utah Code 76-6-603 states “Any merchant who has probable cause to believe that a person has committed retail theft may detain such person, on or off the premises of a retail mercantile establishment, in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time for all or any of the following purposes:

  1. to make reasonable inquiry as to whether such person has in his possession unpurchased merchandise and to make reasonable investigation of the ownership of such merchandise;
    to request identification
  2. to verify such identification;
  3. to make a reasonable request of such person to place or keep in full view any merchandise such individual may have removed, or which the merchant has reason to believe he may have removed, from its place of display or elsewhere, whether for examination, purchase, or for any other reasonable purpose;
  4. to inform a peace officer of the detention of the person and surrender that person to the custody of a peace officer;
  5. in the case of a minor, to inform a peace officer, the parents, guardian, or other private person interested in the welfare of that minor immediately, if possible, of this detention and to surrender custody of such minor to such person.”

Reasonable manner

While the above section does not mention using physical force, it is commonly expected that detaining a person would require some form of physical force, especially if the suspect was non-compliant. The only guidelines mentioned include detaining a shoplifting suspect “in a reasonable manner”. This non-specific wording allows investigators to determine whether or not the merchant or their employees took things too far. In the case of the shoplifter at Ace Hardware, the fact that his breathing was restricted enough to cause his death may be very likely to be seen as not a reasonable manner of detention. If that is the case, those responsible could face homicide charges for attempting to stop a shoplifter.

California Fugitive Since 2012 Located in Utah Following $3.00 Credit Card Fraud

A fugitive from California wanted for murder since 2012 has been located in Utah after he committed a credit card fraud for a whopping $3.00.

Murder in California

Photo by: Tom Britt

In 2012, 29 year old Jordan Vigil was found dead in a garage in Castro Valley, California. The man suspected of his murder fled prior to police arriving on scene. Police assumed the suspect may have fled the country as he possibly had ties outside the United States. The case went cold until just recently when the suspect was located in Utah.

Credit card fraud in Utah

33 year old Cody Tripp was the sole suspect in the murder of Jordan Vigil in California but managed to steer clear of law enforcement’s radar for seven years. It wasn’t until Tripp made the mistake of fraudulently using another person’s credit card in Utah that he was eventually caught for credit card fraud as well as the seven year old murder. It isn’t known publicly what Tripp used the stolen card for, but the amount of just over $3.00 probably wasn’t worth it.

Criminal charges

Photo by: cafecredit.com

When someone unlawfully takes possession of another’s credit or debit card in Utah, it is considered a type of fraud – regardless of whether or not they used the card to go on a shopping spree or to buy a drink at a mini-mart. Credit card fraud that gets reported to police as what happened in this case is investigated thoroughly and penalized as a second or third degree felony, depending on the quantity of cards stolen. Utah Code 76-6-506.3 states “. . . an individual is guilty of a third degree felony who: acquires a financial transaction card from another without the consent of the card holder or the issuer”. If the person is in possession of 100 or more stolen cards, the charges are increased to a second degree felony.

Don’t run – Get an attorney

Tripp’s fraud charge in Utah is nothing compared to the homicide charge he faces back in California. Facing serious criminal charges can be frightening, especially when facing a charge that could mean life in prison or even the death penalty. Running from the law may buy a person some time, but it is always better to face a charge head on with the help of a reputable criminal defense attorney.