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Multiple charges filed in connection with death of elderly woman

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SALT LAKE CITY — Shirley Sharp, 85, was bound, beaten and strangled when she was killed in her house on Jan. 25.

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office filed several charges against Christen Spencer, 49, including aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated arson and failing to obey the commands of a police officer.

Bail was set at $2 million.

On Jan. 25, a Utah Transit Authority officer stopped a vehicle that was driving in a bus-only lane near 75 West and 5300 South.

"The driver … fled the scene in the vehicle while officer (Rufus) Tolbert was speaking to him. Officer Tolbert was able to capture the driver’s image and voice on his camera. Officer Tolbert also recorded the license plate of the car," according to charging documents.

The car was traced back to its owner, Sharp. Tolbert went to the woman's house and found the back door was partially forced open, a window was broken out and smoke was coming out of the house, court documents state.

"The firefighters entered the house and found Ms. Sharp, who was beaten, bound, and deceased. The firefighters put out the fire, which was smoldering in the bedroom closet," according to the charges.

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The cause of death was determined by the state medical examiner to be blunt force trauma to the head and strangulation. Many items were missing from Sharp's dresser drawers, investigators determined.

When Spencer was arrested, he was carrying a prescription bottle belonging to Sharp's husband, who had died of natural causes, according to the report.

The fire intentionally set in a closet was smoldering when emergency crews arrived, charges state. Gill believes it was just by chance that the entire house did not catch fire.

Investigators used Tolbert's recording to identify Spencer and then DNA tests to link him to Sharp's death, according to court documents.

"The one thing I absolutely want to point out is the great work by officer Tolbert. He was right on the money sharp. He was very alert. And his sort of quick thinking was essential," said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.

Spencer, whose residence is listed in court documents as a Salt Lake City homeless shelter, was arrested in early February on a federal warrant by the U.S. Marshals Service and booked into the Davis County Jail.

When he was arrested, Spencer was already named as a person of interest by Murray police, who put their case together while he was incarcerated.


The one thing I absolutely want to point out is the great work by Officer Tolbert. He was right on the money sharp. He was very alert. And his sort of quick thinking was essential.

–Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney


One of the questions Gill cannot answer before trial is whether Spencer allegedly picked Sharp's home at random or specifically targeted her home to rob.

"The theory of our case (is) … this is something that started out as a burglary because there was some evidence to believe the house was broken into," he said.

In 2002, Spencer was indicted in federal court for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He was convicted and sentenced in 2005 to 27 months in federal prison.

In 2004, Spencer was indicted federally for possessing stolen mail and identification fraud, according to court records. He was sentenced to eight months in prison to run concurrent with his other federal sentence.

Spencer was convicted in 2012 of an amended charge of attempting to use or possess someone else's bank card, according to court records. In 2001, he was convicted of felony drug possession and sentenced to a year in jail.

In 1997, Spencer was convicted of felony forgery and felony theft in another case.

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Pat Reavy

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