Child Endangerment Charges For Utah Mom Who Threw Underage Drinking Party

A Utah mom who threw an underage drinking party for her son and his friends is being charged with child endangerment after one of the party goers died.

Contributing to the delinquency of a minor

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40 year old Kristina Teresa Valdez was throwing a birthday party for her teenage son at their Kearns, Utah home when she told one of her son’s friends to leave. The teens were enjoying alcohol and drugs while under the care of Valdez when the friend started acting belligerent. After being kicked out into the cold with only light clothing on, the 17 year old boy passed out in a nearby field and died, possibly from exposure. The teen’s parents assumed he had run way and searched for him for over two weeks before his body was discovered. An autopsy revealed the teen had been intoxicated and under the influence of marijuana. Valdez was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and child endangerment.

Child endangerment

Not only was Valdez charged with letting the teenagers have alcohol, she is also facing charges for allegedly letting them use marijuana while in her home. This is considered child endangerment which is punishable as a first, second, or third degree felony. Utah code 76-5-112.5 states regarding child endangerment:

  • “. . . a person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if the person knowingly or intentionally causes or permits a child or a vulnerable adult to be exposed to, inhale, ingest, or have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia;
  • . . . a person is guilty of a felony of the second degree, if: the person engages in the conduct described [above]; and as a result of the conduct . . . a child or a vulnerable adult suffers bodily injury, substantial bodily injury, or serious bodily injury; or
  • a person is guilty of a felony of the first degree, if: the person engages in the conduct described [above]; and as a result of the conduct . . . a child or a vulnerable adult dies.”

Photo by: Tony Webster

Although the teen died after Valdez kicked him out of the party drunk and high, she is only facing a third degree felony instead of a first degree felony. Parents are encouraged to not use illegal activity as a way to be the “cool parent”.Those parents who are facing charges for allowing children to break the law in their home should consult with a criminal defense attorney.

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

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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.

Child Kidnapping Charges For Salt Lake City Man Who Carjacked Vehicle with Child Inside

A Salt Lake City man was arrested for child kidnapping after he carjacked a car with a young child still in the back seat.

Theft of an occupied vehicle

29 year old Derek Orr was arrested after taking a woman out of her minivan and driving off with a four year old girl in the backseat. Orr waited until the woman had stopped in traffic and then approached her, demanding she give him her vehicle. He then opened her door and took her out forcefully, got in, then drove away. As the woman stood in the middle of a busy road yelling for help, she alerted other drivers that her daughter was in the stolen vehicle. Meanwhile Orr, who was under the influence of drugs, discovered that he wasn’t alone in the minivan and dropped the young child off at a business a few blocks away. The child was frightened but unharmed. Orr was later located and after a few hour standoff with law enforcement was apprehended. He now faces multiple charges including aggravated robbery and child kidnapping.

Child Kidnapping

According to Utah Code 76-5-301.1, “An actor commits child kidnapping if the actor intentionally or knowingly, without authority of law, and by any means and in any manner, seizes, confines, detains, or transports a child under the age of 14 without the consent of the victim’s parent or guardian, or the consent of a person acting in loco parentis.” Child kidnapping is a first degree felony, punishable by five years to life in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Piling on the charges

Although Orr purposefully carjacked the vehicle, it does not appear he intentionally or knowingly (at first) committed child kidnapping. Had that been his intent he would not have safely left the child somewhere for her mom or the authorities to locate her. While Orr may need to be punished for the crimes he committed, adding on additional charges to someone who made poor choices while high on drugs is just adding to the growing number of addicts already behind bars. Orr is currently being held on two misdemeanor charges along with eight felony charges including the first degree felony for child kidnapping. Anyone facing criminal charges should seek legal counsel, especially when the charges start to pile up unfairly. An experienced attorney can help defend all charges, including those that shouldn’t have been added in the first place.