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.

Homeless man Arrested for Aggravated Murder of an Officer in Utah

A 40 year old homeless Utah man was arrested for aggravated murder of an officer after he shot and killed a policeman attempting to apprehend him.

Attempt to arrest a fugitive

29 year old Joseph Shinners, a three year veteran officer with the Provo Police Department was killed earlier this month while attempting to apprehend a fugitive in Orem, Utah. Shinners was responding to a location alert regarding a fugitive who had a history of making violent threats towards police officers. When Shinners arrived and attempted to apprehend the suspect he was shot and later died at Utah Valley Hospital. The 40 year old suspect who is not being named at this time was arrested for aggravated murder of an officer.

Aggravated murder of an officer

Utah Code 76-5-202 states regarding aggravated murder of an officer that: “criminal homicide constitutes aggravated murder [of an officer] . . if the victim is or has been a peace officer, law enforcement officer, executive officer, prosecuting officer, jailer, prison official, firefighter, judge or other court official, juror, probation officer, or parole officer, and the victim is either on duty or the homicide is based on, is caused by, or is related to that official position, and the actor knew, or reasonably should have known, that the victim holds or has held that official position”.

Criminal penalties

That section goes on to note that “If a notice of intent to seek the death penalty has been files, aggravated murder is a capital felony. If a notice of intent to seek the death penalty has not been filed, aggravated murder is a noncapital first degree felony”. A noncapital first degree felony is punishable by 25 years to life in prison. For more information on crimes against police officers and how they differ from crimes against regular citizens, contact a criminal defense attorney.