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Witness says Joshua Binkerd did not order Jordanelle murder

SHARE Witness says Joshua Binkerd did not order Jordanelle murder

HEBER CITY — The murder trial of a Taylorsville man accused of giving the "green light" for the 2008 shooting death of a woman in Jordanelle State Park took a sharp turn Tuesday when a defense witness testified that someone else ordered the killing.

Scott Rees, an inmate at the Salt Lake County Jail in the days after Ashley Sparks, 21, was killed, told a 4th District Court jury that Christopher Alvey, now 21, admitted shooting her because he thought she was a snitch.

But, Rees said, Alvey did not tell him that Joshua Binkerd, now on trial, gave the order to Alvey, who pleaded guilty to aggravated murder last year and received a prison sentence of 20 years to life in exchange for his testimony.

Instead, Rees testified, Alvey said the order came from Jason Cowdell, known by his street name, "Flaco."

"I clearly remember him saying Flaco told him to do it," Rees said, adding that he had crossed paths with Cowdell before and thought he was a "scumbag."

"I wasn't the least bit surprised when I heard that (Cowdell) told this kid to do this," Rees said.

Alvey, Binkerd, 23, and Cowdell allegedly came to believe over time that Sparks was informing police about their check-forging and drug-selling operations, and were especially angered when she copied numbers from Cowdell's phone days before she was killed.

The defense rested after also calling Binkerd's ex-girlfriend, Valerie Williams, who testified that Alvey often told wild stories and she never believed anything he said.

Previously, Williams testified that Alvey resented how she was trying to draw Binkerd away from his criminal life.

Still, the three enjoyed Christmas Day in 2008 together. Alvey held a camcorder as Binkerd asked Williams to marry him. She accepted.

But the day took a dark turn after Binkerd went to bed and Alvey and Williams smoked methamphetamine in the living room, according to her testimony. She became upset when he used her rice cooker to bleach bullets and told her they were intended for Sparks.

The next morning, Cowdell and another man, Cody Brooks, delivered Sparks to Alvey near Binkerd's apartment. Brooks was jailed last week for refusing to testify at the trial, despite being granted immunity. Cowdell also declined to answer questions, citing the Fifth Amendment.

Alvey testified he drove up Parleys Canyon, sharing meth with Sparks on the way, and stopped somewhere to force her out of the van. But he let her back in when she complained about walking in the snow.

Then, Alvey said, he drove around Park City until Binkerd called him.

"Be careful. Don't bring her back," Binkerd said, according to Alvey's testimony.

Alvey told the jury he took that as a clear message: "It meant shoot her."

He did shoot her four times behind a park visitors center at the bottom of a winding road overlooking the Jordanelle Reservoir. On his way home, he called Binkerd to say "it's done."

However, under questioning from defense attorney Edward Jones, Alvey admitted Binkerd never gave him an explicit order to kill Sparks.

In a taped police interview shown to the jury, Binkerd, weeping when shown a photo of Sparks, repeatedly said he never meant for Alvey to hurt her.

Salt Lake police detective Justin Hudson, who conducted the interview, conceded in court it was a "big mistake" not to seize the phones of Cowdell and Brooks. Officers from the Department of Natural Resources, which led the investigation because the murder took place in a state park, instead focused their inquiry on Alvey and Binkerd.

In fact, Jones argued, Binkerd had consistently tried to protect Sparks: picking her up one night after she said she was drugged and raped, taking her to a hotel on another occasion to talk with someone whose mother was in jail about the dangers of snitching.

"You're gonna get hurt," Binkerd said in the interview, quoting his words to Sparks. "These people want you dead. They think you're a cop."

In a textbook interrogation maneuver, police lied to Binkerd in the interview, telling him Alvey had confessed to killing Sparks. Binkerd then related details of the shooting Alvey had told him the next day.

On cross-examination, Alvey said he was upset when police told him what Binkerd said.

"It was supposed to be a loyalty thing," he said, recalling a conversation with Binkerd shortly after the murder. "He told me before they were going to try to turn us against each other."

"Well," Jones replied, "it looks like they did."

Arguing a motion to dismiss the case Tuesday, Jones said Alvey was not credible and only stuck to his testimony to keep his plea bargain in place, even telling police in a pretrial interview he hoped to be released on parole in as little as six years.

Jones also said Binkerd and his associates, despite allegedly congratulating Alvey and giving him a blue bandana the night of the murder, did not believe Alvey had killed Sparks until they saw news reports the next day. Only then, realizing police were searching for them, did they panic, Jones said.

Judge Derek Pullan denied the motion. The case will go to the jury Wednesday after closing arguments.

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com