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.
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.
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 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.