An 18-year-old Big Water man was sentenced Friday in 6th District Court to five years to life in prison for the murder of his 6-year-old cousin.
Alex Bybee told the court he strangled Lance Guevarra for fear his uncle - Guevarra's father - would be upset over breaking his cousin's arm in a fight over a Nintendo game. Guevarra passed out when his arm was broken, Bybee testified."I picked Lance up and took him over the hill to think about it," Bybee said. "I thought that it was either me or him, so I put my foot on his throat and strangled him."
Kane County lawmen were baffled by Guevarra's disappearance in the small, mostly polygamous community of Big Water on Aug. 14, 1996.
Then, in February 1997, Bybee was in a Las Vegas mental institution following a suicide attempt when he confessed to police and led them to a shallow grave less than a quarter mile from the trailer where Guevarra was last seen.
Bybee pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder in March, the day before the case was to go to trial.
At the sentencing, Bybee told Guevarra's parents he was sorry and that he loved and respected them both.
The apology came after defense attorney Karlin Myers accused William Guevarra of abusing Bybee and causing the fear that prompted Bybee to kill his cousin.
William Guevarra is a polygamist with three wives. Bybee is the nephew to one of them.
"He feared he was going to die at the hands of his uncle," Myers said. "If he (William Guevarra) had only treated Alex with respect and kindness, vs. abuse, Lance would be alive today."
During Meyers' argument, William Guevarra shouted, "I am not the one on trial here," prompting a warning from Judge K.L. McKiff.
The father was later allowed to testify, calling the accusations of abuse "ridiculous lies."
Guevarra then asked Bybee if he could hear coyotes howl at night the way they did the night his son was murdered.
Myers and Bybee's father, Kent Bybee, pleaded for leniency and asked the court to consider therapy instead of a prison time.
McIff, who said he understood how outside influences can cause certain behaviors, ruled that Bybee should pay the price for taking a life.
"At least you have your life," McIff told Alex Guevarra. "that is something that Lance doesn't have anymore."
Bybee's attorneys had appealed McIff's ruling that would have allowed their client's confession during trial.
Defense lawyers argued that Bybee's pleas to have his father present amounted to a request for counsel. The investigator who interviewed Bybee rejected the boy's request.
On March 20, the Utah Supreme Court upheld McIff's ruling that the interview was proper.