LOGAN — Cache County's top prosecutor believes that if his office hadn't filed a capital murder charge against the uncle of a missing 5-year-old girl, her body would not have been found in a timely manner.
Hours after Alexander William Whipple, 21, was charged with aggravated murder Wednesday for the death of his 5-year-old niece, Elizabeth "Lizzy" Shelley — meaning he faced a possible death sentence if convicted — Cache County Attorney James Swink agreed not to pursue the death penalty in exchange for information about where to find the child's body.
Law enforcement officers spent thousands of hours searching for Lizzy over five days, only to frustratingly learn that her body was just half a block from her home, near a wooded and overgrown area.
Thursday afternoon, Logan police announced that an autopsy confirmed that the remains recovered are Lizzy's. Swink said the body was found in relatively good condition, which will allow for the family to "lay her to rest in an appropriate way."
When Whipple's attorney, Shannon Demler, called Swink Wednesday with the offer to reveal where Lizzy was located in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table, Swink said it was a decision he didn't take lightly.
"It is not a small thing for us to consider taking that off the table. With that said, we will seek the harshest penalties possible that’s available to us, which will now be life without the possibility of parole,” he said.
The ultimate decision, he said, was up to Lizzy's family.
"We reached out to the mother of Lizzy and learned her highest priority was to get her daughter’s body back. And after further consultation with law enforcement and learning it was their desire to locate the body, and primarily based on the mother’s desire, we agreed to take the death penalty off the table in return for being able to find and locate Lizzy’s body. And we were able to do that,” Swink said.
The county attorney said investigators had already collected enough evidence to file a charge of capital murder. But not having a body was a big missing part of the murder investigation.
"It’s such an important piece to the family that it warranted us to agreeing to a negotiated settlement in this case," Swink said.
But he also noted that without the other evidence law enforcement worked hard to collect, he wouldn't have been able to charge Whipple, and "without the capital murder charge, finding that body in a timely manner would not have happened."
A recording of the 911 call made by Detrich Black, Jessica Whipple's live-in boyfriend who identified himself to dispatchers as Jessica's husband and Lizzy's father, was released on Thursday.
"We woke up and the front door is wide open," Black tells the dispatcher. "I just woke up, and they’re gone."
In the recording, Black tells the dispatcher that Alex Whipple's cellphone, skateboard and hat are still in the house. He said he tried contacting Whipple through Facebook, but he didn't answer.
In addition to aggravated murder, Whipple was charged with child kidnapping, abuse of a dead body, and two counts of obstruction of justice. A day earlier, Whipple was charged with several misdemeanor counts, including failing to disclose his identity to police, failing to stop for police and drug possession.
He is scheduled to be back in court on Monday to face the charges from both cases.
Meanwhile, as prosecutors prepared for their case Thursday, a memorial continued to grow on the front porch of Lizzy's home. Teddy bears and other stuffed animals, flowers and balloons filled the front porch area as residents stopped by to add to the collection.
Also on Thursday, Logan police warned the public not to fall victim to fake accounts claiming to be raising money for Lizzy's family.
The only two donation accounts authorized by Lizzy's family are an account through Zion's Bank, and a GoFundMe account.
"Any Zions branch will take cash donations for the Elizabeth Shelley Donation Account," police stated.
The GoFundMe fundraiser seeks to raise money for Lizzy's funeral. The site also notes that the girl's family "has been bombarded and overwhelmed by very hateful messages online. Her family is hurting in ways I can’t even comprehend.
"They did not have life insurance on Lizzy and need help with the funeral costs, etc.," the message continues, while asking the public to make small donations to "make sure Lizzy gets a proper burial."
The GoFundMe page also encourages residents to participate in a "Lights on for Lizzy" campaign.
"The community in Cache Valley have been leaving their front porch lights on for “Lights on 4 Lizzy” during the search and rescue. If you would like to join in, you can share this post and leave your front porch light on tonight and each night until the night of Lizzy’s funeral and burial."