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Autry's family tells jurors: 'Evil has a face'

They describe impact of murder, ask jury to 'do what you need to do'

Jurors will decide whether Cody Lynn Nielsen, right, lives or dies for killing Trisha Autry.
Jurors will decide whether Cody Lynn Nielsen, right, lives or dies for killing Trisha Autry.
Mitch Mascaro, Associated Press

LOGAN — The June 2000 murder of Trisha Ann Autry was like a massive earthquake or a large boulder thrown violently into a small pool, the teenage girl's mother said Tuesday.

"The initial impact was devastating, but the repercussions just go on and on," JoAnn Autry told jurors who will determine the fate of Cody Lynn Nielsen, the man convicted last week of kidnapping, killing and dismembering the 15-year-old.

The emotional toll was too much for the girl's father. LeRoy Autry, who had battled cancer for 16 years, died less than a year after his daughter's disappearance and one month before her partial remains were unearthed at a Cache County wildlife research facility.

JoAnn Autry described her daughter as a "precocious redhead" whose life was cut tragically short after only 15 years and 175 days.

"Trisha had an exuberance for life that demonstrated itself in the way she worked, loved and played," JoAnn Autry said.

The teen was a "confident, opinionated and powerful young woman. She didn't take guff from anyone. She didn't frighten easily, but she was afraid of this man, and for good reason," JoAnn Autry said.

Nielsen, 31, was convicted last week of one count each of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping and kidnapping, and two counts of desecration of a human body.

Aram Autry, Trisha's older brother, told jurors about the impact his sister's death has had on his family. His 5-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter are afraid most of the time, they sleep in the same bed and his daughter won't walk the 100 yards to her best friend's house alone.

"They believe that it is normal for people to be abducted and murdered," Aram Autry said. "That's the reality they live with."

Pointing in Nielsen's direction, Aram Autry said, "Evil has a face: It's because of that man over there. That's why you're afraid; that's why I'm afraid."

When making their decision, Aram Autry asked jurors to do what he can't bring himself to do — think about the events leading up to and immediately after his sister's death.

"When I allow myself to wrap my mind around it, it's too much," he said. "I ask you to take your mind there to do what you need to do."

In his opening statement Tuesday afternoon, special prosecutor Scott Wyatt asked the eight-man, six-woman jury to sentence Nielsen to die for his crimes.

Jurors made a statement with the guilty verdicts, Wyatt said, but the one they will reach later this week will speak "volumes louder."

"It's your decision," Wyatt said. "It's the final message that you'll give to the defendant."

In addition to a death sentence, jurors can choose to order Nielsen to serve a life sentence in prison, with or without the possibility of parole.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Shannon Demler urged jurors to consider how their decision will impact everyone in Nielsen's life.

The day's proceedings got off to a late start after Nielsen's father, Lynn Nielsen, suffered an apparent heart attack while waiting for court to begin.

Paramedics attended to Lynn Nielsen just outside the courtroom doors while spectators were kept inside. Lynn Nielsen remained in Logan Regional Hospital in the intensive care unit Tuesday afternoon, Demler said.

Nielsen appeared extremely upset after being informed of his father's condition. He was not in the courtroom during the incident, as he had previously refused to leave his holding cell. However, when he did come into the courtroom after being informed of the situation, Nielsen was red-faced and crying. He immediately lowered his head to the table, where it remained throughout the morning and during much of the afternoon testimony.

It was the first emotion Nielsen has shown throughout the trial. He remained stoic even as 1st District Judge Clint S. Judkins announced the five guilty verdicts against him.

In additional testimony Tuesday afternoon, four women took the stand and told about being sexually assaulted by Nielsen.

One of the women said Nielsen raped her in 1996, when she was just 16, in his camping trailer in a canyon near Hyrum.

The now-24-year-old woman testified that she drank alcohol with Nielsen while her friend visited with her boyfriend, Nielsen's friend, in a nearby trailer.

The others testified that Nielsen tried to rape them, but they were able to fight their way free and get away.

One of the women reported the attempted rape to Utah State University campus police immediately after it happened, but the others did not make a report until after Nielsen was arrested for Autry's murder.

Nielsen is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for having sex with Autry's 15-year-old friend in 2000. Another woman testified last week that Nielsen tried to assault her shortly before Autry's murder and then threatened her if she went to police.

After presenting evidence of Nielsen's criminal record, which also includes theft charges and assault charges, prosecutors rested their case.

Members of Nielsen's family are expected to take the stand first thing this morning for the defense. It is unclear whether Nielsen will also testify; he did not take the stand in the first phase of the trial.

If Nielsen does take the stand in his own defense, it will likely come between prosecutors' and defense attorneys' closing arguments. Nielsen will not be subject to cross-examination, though prosecutors will be able to address anything Nielsen says during their closing arguments.

A Cache County sheriff's deputy has sat with Nielsen's family following last Wednesday's verdict. Though they remained calm inside the courtroom, the upset family shouted obscenities at news reporters outside the courthouse and again from their vehicles as they drove away.

Deputies also escorted Nielsen's family from the courthouse Tuesday afternoon, allowing them to exit through a side door and avoid contact with the news media.