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Man admits to brutally killing elderly Murray woman in her home

Man admits to brutally killing elderly Murray woman in her home

(Salt Lake County Jail)


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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — A man admitted Tuesday that he broke into the home of an 85-year-old Murray woman, tied her up, brutally beat and strangled her, robbed her and then set her house on fire.

Attorneys for Christen Spencer, 50, who was scheduled to begin a preliminary hearing, announced Tuesday that a plea deal had been reached in the case.

Spencer pleaded guilty to aggravated murder for the ruthless Jan. 25 death of Shirley Sharp. In exchange for his plea, charges of aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated arson and failing to obey the commands of a police officer were dismissed.

When he is sentenced on Jan. 20, both the defense and the prosecution will ask the judge to impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"The state and Mr. Spencer believe that's a fair resolution to the case," defense attorney Michael Peterson told 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy.

On Jan. 25, Sharp's body was found bound to a bedpost on the floor of her room and her bedroom on fire.

The fire was discovered because a Utah Transit Authority officer had just stopped a vehicle that was driving in a bus-only lane near 75 West and 5300 South. The driver, Spencer, ran off after being pulled over. The car, which was Sharp's, was traced back to her house where investigators found the back door forced open and smoke coming from inside.

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Spencer, whose address is listed in court documents as the homeless shelter, was arrested by U.S. marshals about a week later on an unrelated federal warrant and booked into the Davis County Jail, where he has remained since February.

Spencer, with his almost bald head and big mustache, wearing a blue and white striped jumpsuit from the jail, spoke softly as he told the judge he understood his rights, waived his preliminary hearing and entered a plea of guilty.

Peterson noted to Skanchy that his client had been on various medications since being incarcerated that "help him to function." He said Spencer suffers from anxiety and depression among other things.

But Peterson also stressed that the plea deal was made at Spencer's request. He said his client felt remorse for what he did and is expected to address the judge about that when he is sentenced.

A large number of Sharp's family members and friends sat in the courtroom to watch the proceedings. They listened as the attorneys went over the facts of the case: Spencer broke into Sharp's home, struck her 17 times in the head with a tire iron, bound her hands behind her back and tied them to a bed post, and strangled her with nylons before robbing her and setting a fire in her closet.


The state and Mr. Spencer believe that's a fair resolution to the case.

–Michael Peterson, Defense Attorney


Sharp's family declined comment as they left the hearing. In the courtroom, they requested that the sentencing be set for Jan. 25, the one-year anniversary of Shriley Sharp's death.

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, he 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 also convicted in 2012 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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