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Uncle pleads guilty in Logan girl Lizzy Shelley’s death, faces up to life in prison

By Annie Knox, KSL | Updated - Aug. 13, 2019 at 7:07 p.m. | Posted - Aug. 13, 2019 at 2:11 p.m.

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LOGAN — LOGAN — In May, Alexander Whipple’s sister invited him to crash on her couch in Logan after a night of drinking. Instead, after she went to sleep, he took her 5-year-old daughter from the girl’s bed, sexually assaulted her and killed her.

Whipple admitted Tuesday to the most serious charges he faced in the disappearance and death of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley, part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that will spare him a possible death sentence.

His guilty pleas come two and a half months after he disclosed where he had hidden the girl’s body, near trees and a shed not far from her home. In exchange for that information, the state agreed not to pursue the death penalty.

“We are hopeful that the criminal case can be resolved quickly so that we can continue to grieve without the worries of the court hearings,” the girl’s aunt, Liesel Merrill, said outside the courtroom. Her niece was all about kindness, happiness and looking for butterflies and rainbows, she recalled.

Cache County Attorney James Swink said after the hearing the family’s progress toward healing has been the top concern for his office.

“Everything we’ve done has been for the victims,” he said. “It’s important for the mother to receive the body of her child. They were able to have an open casket funeral and lay her to rest with dignity.” That wouldn’t have been possible if the state had insisted the death penalty remain a possibility, he added, “so in this case it was the right thing to do for the victims.”

On May 25, the 21-year-old Whipple left a door ajar as he carried the girl away from her home, raped her and fatally stabbed her in her back with a knife he had taken from her home, according to the facts supporting Whipple’s pleas, read aloud by Swink in court. Investigators found her blood on Whipple’s pants and DNA on Lizzy’s body that confirmed he had raped her, Swink said. He added the state will seek a term of life in prison without parole when Whipple is sentenced on Sept. 24.

A shackled Whipple wore a pink jail jumpsuit Tuesday and said little during the brief hearing in Logan’s 1st District Court, replying, “yes, your honor” when the judge asked if he agreed with Swink’s account of the facts. Whipple’s gaze was mostly fixed toward the floor.

Lizzy was reported missing on May 25 after her mother — Whipple’s sister — and her fiance woke up to find Lizzy and Whipple gone from their house, court documents say. Five days later and after he had been criminally charged with aggravated murder, Whipple agreed to tell his attorney where his niece’s body was.

After receiving additional evidence from the Utah State Crime Lab, prosecutors filed the sexual abuse charges a day after Lizzy was laid to rest in the Logan City Cemetery.

Police found Lizzy’s remains a half block away from her home, behind a shed and covered by dirt, sticks and other debris, bringing a five-day search to an end.

Outside the courtroom, Whipple’s defense attorney Shannon Demler said he suspects his client has mental illness and confirmed is undergoing evaluations to determine which he may suffer from.

“Our argument is going to be to give him a chance to change in prison,” Demler said, so that someday, he may have the opportunity to be released.

Whipple entered guilty pleas to charges of aggravated murder, child kidnapping, rape of a child and sodomy on a child, all first degree felonies. In exchange, remaining charges he faced, including obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; and desecration of a body, a third-degree felony, were dismissed.

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