The slaying of a 21-year-old woman at Jordanelle State Park was premeditated, state officials said Monday.
Ashley Sparks was shot four times and was left near a building at the park Friday, according to jail documents and Utah State Parks officials. She was found by two park visitors who called 911. Sparks was taken to a local hospital but died a short time later.
On Sunday, 22-year-old Joshua Binkerd and 19-year-old Christopher Alvey were arrested for investigation of aggravated murder and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail. The men were arrested separately in Taylorsville and Salt Lake City.
Sparks, Binkerd and Alvey were all acquaintances, said Sid Groll, law enforcement director for the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Sparks had received several threats over the past few weeks, Groll said. Some of those threats may have involved a gun, he said.
"She expressed concerns about her safety," Groll said.
Those concerns were expressed to friends and family members but not law enforcement officers, he said. Pamela Larsen, Sparks' mother, told KSL-TV that she became concerned about her daughter when no one had heard from her after Christmas.
She had a phone conversation with one of the arrested men before her daughter was discovered.
"I wanted to know where she was, and he said he had no idea and that he wouldn't do anything like that to her, that he hadn't done anything. But he told me that if she snitched on them, that he would, and that was out of his own mouth," Larsen told KSL.
Groll could not confirm a motive for the slaying. During a news conference Monday, he addressed rumors that Sparks was working as an informant for police, which may have led to her being shot.
"We cannot substantiate she was an informant," he said.
But Larsen told KSL that her daughter, who had been involved with drugs in the past, was trying to turn her life around and was trying to get information against Alvey and Binkerd that would "put them away."
"They knew directly what they were doing when they did it, and it just makes me ill thinking she was left all alone and scared and wondering, I'm sure just wishing that her mom was there," Larsen said. "She was left by herself bleeding and in the cold, you know, and I don't think they deserve any mercy for that."
Based on conversations with family and friends, investigators were able to identify and track down the possible shooters in the case. Alvey is believed to be the shooter, Groll said.
"Binkerd ordered (arrested person) Alvey to commit the murder the day of the actual crime," according to jail records.
Witnesses told detectives that Alvey carries a 9 mm handgun with him. Sparks was shot with a 9 mm weapon, according to court documents. Based on evidence collected, the shooting is believed to have happened at the park, and Sparks was not dumped there from somewhere else, Groll said.
Sparks had given birth 18 months ago to a son who lives with his father.
Both Binkerd and Alvey have had other recent criminal cases, and both had warrants out for their arrests for their alleged involvement in crimes prior to the shooting.
In 2006, Binkerd was charged in 3rd District Court with 31 various counts of burglary of a building, burglary of a vehicle, theft and criminal mischief. He pleaded guilty to just a handful of charges, with the others being dismissed, according to court records.
In February of this year, he was convicted on a forgery charge. In October, he was charged with theft and burglary in Davis County.
Also in October, Adult Probation and Parole issued a warrant for Binkerd for violating his probation on his 2006 conviction, and it then issued a second warrant when he failed to show for a mandatory court appearance in November, according to court records.
Alvey was involved in a vehicle chase in Tooele County in October with speeds reaching 96 mph, according to court records. He took a plea in abeyance in November to fleeing and pleaded guilty to wrongful appropriation in exchange for the dismissal of the charges of reckless driving and speeding.
He also was charged in October in 3rd District Court with two counts of forgery and two counts of theft by deception. A warrant was issued for his arrest Dec. 15 in failing to show up to court.
Groll said the Wasatch County Attorney's Office would be prosecuting the case. The two men were booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Sunday for convenience, Groll said, and were expected at some point to be transferred to the Wasatch County Jail.