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'You can't sugarcoat evil,' prosecutor says

He paints a grisly picture of Cache teen's 2000 slaying

LOGAN — Evidence in a Hyrum teenager's grisly slaying will be difficult at times, but it will not be watered down in any way, jurors were told on the opening day of Cody Lynn Nielsen's capital murder trial.

"You can't sugarcoat evil," prosecutor Scott Wyatt said in his opening statement Tuesday.

Wyatt painted a gruesome picture of Trisha Ann Autry's murder for the six-woman, eight-man jury — one in which the teen was kidnapped during an early-morning walk on June 24, 2000, killed and then systematically dismembered and her remains burned almost beyond recognition.

"When he started, he started with a 15-year-old beautiful, vibrant girl at the beginning of her life," he said. "When he ended, he left nothing but ashes and rubble."

Nielsen, 31, is charged with capital murder, first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping, second-degree felony kidnapping and two third-degree felony counts of desecration of a human body.

"He sat up on that hill and piece by piece took her body apart, ripped her flesh from her bones," Wyatt said.

Nielsen sat with his head down throughout the prosecutor's comments, writing on a piece of paper and never looking around the packed courtroom.

Nielsen's defense team opted not to make an opening statement. Defense attorney Shannon Demler said he will offer a statement before he begins presenting his case, which is expected to be early next week.

Outside of court, Demler denied Nielsen had anything to do with Autry's death and criticized Wyatt's dramatic opening statement.

"It was far exaggerated," he said. "There won't be facts that back up what he said."

Nielsen pleaded guilty in January 2003 to capital murder as part of a deal to spare his life. He later withdrew his plea, however, and asked for a trial.

Nearly one year after Autry's disappearance, pieces of her body were unearthed at a Cache County wildlife research facility where Nielsen worked at the time of the slaying.

At the first dig, on May 14, 2001, investigators found a silver-dollar-size piece of jawbone, followed several hours later by the rest of the jawbone and several smaller bone fragments.

"From the discovery of that jawbone, you start to hear the horror that the defendant put her through," Wyatt said. "It was as if the bone said, 'I am Trisha Autry. Let me tell you what he did to me.' "

A pair of tennis shoes, a bra and the ripped waistband from a pair of girl's underwear, all believed to belong to Autry, were also unearthed at the first dig site.

Several hundred charred bone fragments were discovered at other sites inside the 165-acre facility. Prosecutors plan to call a state medical examiner and a forensic anthropologist to testify that the jawbone and bone fragments belonged to Autry.

Prosecutors allege Nielsen used at least 10 instruments, including an ax, a knife and some type of scraping tool, to remove all tissue from the bones.

Early Tuesday, prosecutors presented witnesses to support their contention that Nielsen stalked Autry in the months leading up to her disappearance.

Two of Autry's middle-school friends testified they saw a man in a dark green truck drive by while walking home with Autry, and her oldest sister testified Autry reported being afraid of a man named "Sam" who often waited for her outside her school and followed her home.

Heather Autry said her sister seemed "fearful" of the man and called home nearly every day in May 2000 asking for a ride home from school.

One of the girls identified Nielsen as Sam, which Demler said has been Nielsen's nickname since he was a boy.

On the stand Tuesday afternoon, JoAnn Autry discounted early beliefs that her daughter had run away from home. Only one complete outfit was missing from Autry's room, and those were the same shirt and pants the girl had worn the day before and an old pair of tennis shoes.

Autry would not have left with only those items, JoAnn Autry said, nor would she have gone to meet friends wearing dirty clothes.

Additionally, the family had a meeting scheduled that afternoon to discuss the medical condition of Autry's father. Leroy Autry had cancer and had visited his oncologist just the day before following a setback in his treatment.

JoAnn Autry theorized that her daughter had taken a walk to a favorite family spot, the Hyrum dam, after a late night of creative writing to clear her head before the meeting.

Leroy Autry died in the spring of 2001, less than a year after his daughter disappeared and before her body was found.

Wyatt expects the prosecution to rest its case by the end of this week, and defense attorneys are expected to begin presenting their case on Tuesday.

A four-day sentencing hearing is already scheduled to begin Jan. 27, should Nielsen be convicted. Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com