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.

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.

Bodies Found near Southern Utah Tied to Case of Missing Couple

Two bodies found buried near southern Utah have been tied to a case of couple missing since January.

Human remains

Photo by: Tom Britt

Two sets of human remains were found in the desert just south of the Utah/Arizona border recently and one of the bodies has been officially identified as 63 year old Susan McFalls. The other set has yet to be identified, yet family members expect the DNA results will match that of Susan McFalls’ husband, 63 year old Jerry McFalls. The two bodies were found buried on the side of a dirt road within view of Interstate 15 and investigators have determined the cause of death to be homicide.

Missing persons

The retired couple who has two homes- one in Littlefield, Arizona just south of the Utah border and another home in West Jordan, Utah have been missing since January 11th, 2018 while at their Arizona home. That afternoon, the couple had texted their family members in northern Utah to let them know they were going to be traveling to their Utah home that weekend. No one ever heard from them again. 10 days later, family members contacted law enforcement to do a welfare check at the couple’s Littlefield, Arizona home. Officers were not able to find Susan and Jerry McFalls, but they did locate their pets as well as personal effects and packed vehicles still at the home. With the front door ajar, TV blaring, and dinner mid-preparation, Jerry and Susan McFalls appeared to have vanished. It wasn’t until over ten months later that the human remains were discovered mere miles from the couple’s home.

Foul Play in the desert

Photo by: Don Graham

Law enforcement determined that due to the way the bodies were found, foul play was suspected. There is suspicion surrounding a disgruntled neighbor who was set to go to court regarding assaulting Jerry McFalls with a pellet gun, however no one has been officially charged and the missing persons case is now an active homicide investigation. Those found responsible for the deaths of the couple will end up facing multiple charges including homicide and desecration of a human body.