Jury Prayed Before Deciding Not to Send Nielsen to Death

Jury Prayed Before Deciding Not to Send Nielsen to Death

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LOGAN, Utah (AP) -- A jury that convicted Cody Lynn Nielsen of murder and recommended a prison sentence instead of death prayed together during the process, and even offered a special blessing for one holdout juror who wouldn't vote for the death penalty.

"Every time we went into a deliberation, it was agreed as a jury, that we would pray about it," juror George Andy Berkley told The Herald Journal.

The jury convicted him Jan. 21 of murder in the June 2000 death of Trisha Autry, 15, of Hyrum. A week later, the same jury recommended life in prison after falling one vote short of the death penalty.

Nielsen, 31, is scheduled to be sentenced Monday.

Jurors voluntarily prayed together on three occasions, including prior to sentencing Nielsen to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Berkley said.

"We just wanted to have all the help we figured we needed," he said.

Nine of the 12 jurors initially voted for the death penalty, which increased to 11 after some deliberation. There was one unidentified holdout for a prison sentence.

"The one person who wanted life without parole made a statement that they knew in their head that the death penalty was appropriate, but in their heart they couldn't do it," Berkley said.

After further discussions, another panelist asked the if the holdout juror would like a blessing, Berkley said.

The blessing was given. The juror then went off alone and continued contemplating the sentencing options.

"About a half hour or so they came back and said they had prayed about it and in their heart couldn't change," Berkley said. "We went around less than five minutes after this person made that statement. A vote was taken and it was 12 for life in prison without parole."

Nielsen was also found guilty of first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping, second-degree felony kidnapping and two counts of third-degree felony desecration of a dead human body for taking Autry against her will and then dismembering and burning her body after killing her.

Autry's remains were eventually discovered in May 2001, buried in a deep pit at the Millville Predator Research Lab where Nielsen formerly worked.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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