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25-year prison term added to killer's life sentence

LOGAN — Cody Lynn Nielsen was sentenced Monday to an additional 25 years in prison, on top of the life without parole sentence jurors handed down late last month for the murder of 15-year-old Trisha Ann Autry.

"Mr. Nielsen, may God have mercy on your soul," 1st District Judge Clint S. Judkins said as bailiffs led Nielsen out of the courtroom.

Nielsen appeared in better spirits at Monday's hearing than he did throughout his nearly three-week trial. With a freshly shaved head and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, he smiled at his attorneys and looked around the courtroom, something he rarely did during trial.

Nielsen chose not to speak at the brief hearing, as did the mother of his teenage victim.

Outside the courtroom, JoAnn Autry said she and her family members are finally at peace, after fighting to bring Nielsen to justice for close to four years.

"It's good to know that this man, this predator, will not be able to do this ever again," JoAnn Autry said. "But the world is still not safe, the events of this last week prove that. As parents, we have to be much more vigilant."

An 11-year-old Florida girl was kidnapped earlier this month, and her body was discovered in a church parking lot nearly a week later. The abduction was caught on a car-wash surveillance camera.

JoAnn Autry continued: "The message that comes out of this for parents is you have to stop and listen to your children. Because if we don't protect them, who will?

"As a society, we need to start paying more attention to what's happening."

Trisha Autry had told each member of her family that Nielsen was following her home from school and that she was frightened, but JoAnn Autry said they believed she was talking about a fellow middle-school student.

Jurors last month convicted Nielsen of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping and desecration of a human body for Autry's June 24, 2000, abduction, murder and dismemberment. The jury could have sentenced Nielsen to die but opted instead that he spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.

Although Monday's sentencing was mostly a formality, in light of the life term, prosecutors still urged Judkins to order that all terms be served consecutively.

Autry's murder, prosecutor Tony Baird said, "has left an image upon this valley and this state. I would hope the final impression the court leaves with this community is: 'You commit these types of crimes against humanity, you get the maximum punishment.' "

Judkins agreed and sentenced Nielsen to two consecutive maximum five-year terms for two counts of desecration of a body and an up to 15-year term for aggravated kidnapping. The sentences will run consecutive to the 10-year prison term Nielsen is already serving in two unrelated cases.

Judkins' sentence raised some confusion, as defense attorneys believed the two kidnapping charges would merge with the aggravated murder conviction. In that case, all three charges would be served by the jury's sentence of life in prison without parole.

Instead, Judkins merged the two kidnapping charges and handed down a separate sentence of one to 15 years in prison. The term is typical of a second-degree felony, although Judkins ordered the sentence be served for first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping.

Defense attorney Shannon Demler said the unusual sentence would join other grounds on an appeal soon to be prepared by Nielsen's court-appointed appellate attorneys.

"It's definitely going to be an appellate issue," Demler said.

Another possible ground for appeal is the somewhat unusual way in which the jury handled deliberations. Juror Milton D. Scott told the Logan Herald Journal that jurors prayed each time they deliberated and even gave one holdout juror a special blessing. The juror was the only one of the 12 who voted against giving Nielsen the death penalty, Scott told the local paper.

"It strikes me that there is something terribly wrong with that process that they went through," Demler said.

Still, Demler said, any objections to the process are lessened because the juror did not change her vote and Nielsen's life was spared.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com