UTAH STATE PRISON — Alexander James Bybee has been incarcerated for half his life.
He earned his high school GED and associates degree while in prison. He has never owned a driver's license or had his own bank account.
But Bybee, 33, believes if he is released from the Utah State Prison, he can live out the rest of his life as a contributing member of society.
"Even though I may have failed as a teenager, I believe I've always been a good man," he said Tuesday during his parole hearing at the prison.
In 1996, when Bybee was 16 and living in the mostly polygamous town of Big Water, located in Kane County between Kanab and Lake Powell, he got into an argument with his 6-year-old neighbor, Lance Guevarra, while the two were playing Nintendo. Bybee said he was pulling on Lance's arm to get him to return a video game when he heard something snap.
"After I yanked it hard, I heard a pop," he told the pro-tem parole board member.
Rather than get help, Bybee carried the boy to an area about a quarter-mile away from their trailers, put his foot over the boy's throat and pushed until the boy died of strangulation.
Authorities were baffled by Lance's disappearance and searched unsuccessfully for him for months. It wasn't until Bybee moved to Las Vegas to stay with his father that the truth came out. Bybee attempted suicide and was placed in a Las Vegas mental institution in February 1997, where he confessed what he had done and later led authorities to the shallow grave.
At the time, Bybee said he was in extreme fear of Guevarra's father, whom he claimed abused him. It's a feeling he still holds today.
"I think that I was immature. I was frightened of my neighbors to an extreme. I just didn't think right at the time. And it happened from me being angry to pulling an arm to going to something else I didn't even know was possible or I could do. It just happened so fast that I just don't know what happened as far as how it got to that so fast," he said during the hearing.
In 1998, Bybee, then 18, was sentenced to serve five years to life in prison. His original parole hearing was in 2009.
Bybee was apologetic during his latest hearing Tuesday and said there was never a time when he didn't feel bad about what he had done.
"I can honestly tell you that I don't know what I should be punished, I don't know if I should be kept here forever. All I know is I want to be responsible for it. And I want to pay my debt to society, to the family that I hurt, to my family, to everybody. And I don't know if that's ever going to happen, but I can try my hardest to do that. And I'll always take this with me, whether I'm released from prison or not," he said.
Bybee's father, stepmother and niece attended Tuesday's hearing. Lance's mother was originally scheduled to attend but told the parole board that a last-minute conflict had come up and she asked them to just refer to the letter she submitted to the parole board in 2009.
In the letter, Kimberly Guevarra talked about how Lance's smile and laugh could "make my day," and how he loved swimming, fishing and sharks.
During Bybee's sentencing in 1998, William Guevarra called Bybee's allegations of abuse "ridiculous lies."
"I am not the one on trial here," he shouted in court.
On Tuesday, however, Bybee continued to insist that his fear of Guevarra was a main motivation for his actions.
"I didn't know what he'd do with me, doing something like that. That is what, I believe, is the main catalyst to why I did what I did, because of fear I would be killed by him."
A psychological evaluation was conducted on Bybee in May. One of the conclusions reached was that Bybee was unlikely to commit another murder if released, according to the report.
If released, and allowed to move out of state, Bybee said he would likely go to Arizona to live with his father where he and his stepmother run a nonprofit group aimed at helping homeless families get back on their feet.
The full board will now vote on whether they believe Bybee should be granted parole.