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Man who raped, murdered 5-year-old niece gets life in prison — plus 75 years

Alexander Whipple’s ‘abhorrent and vile’ actions mean he’ll ‘never breathe fresh air again,’ judge says 

Jessica Black, the mother of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley, speaks with reporters following the sentencing for Alex Whipple Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in Logan, Utah. Whipple, a Utah man who pleaded guilty to killing his 5-year-old niece has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. The girl’s relatives called him a “monster” during an emotional hearing.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

LOGAN — As her uncle was ordered to serve his life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday, Lizzy Shelley’s family members recalled the 5-year-old girl as “a ray of sunshine” who was brutally assaulted and murdered by someone who should have protected her.

First District Judge Kevin Allen called the terror that Whipple has caused the girl’s family and community “incomprehensible.”

“You will never see the light of day. You will never breathe fresh air again,” Allen said. “What you did was so abhorrent and vile that you must spend your life in prison.”

As a statement, the judge tacked on an additional 75 years on top of the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, Whipple pleaded guilty last month to charges of aggravated murder, child kidnapping, rape of a child and sodomy on a child, all first-degree felonies.

Lizzy’s disappearance and death in May rocked the community, leading several to question how such a tragedy could happen there and causing many to lose faith in each other, the judge said.

The girl’s mother, Jessica Black, did not attend her brother’s sentencing hearing. Instead, she opted to honor her daughter by releasing painted lady butterflies from a box covered in purple glitter at a nearby county administration building.

“The loss of our Lizzy leaves a space in my heart that can’t be filled. I would give anything to be reunited with her, to hug her and hold her one more time.” Black said, clutching a tissue. Standing next to a poster she made with the names of police agencies and others she wanted to thank, she said she’s grateful for the support her family received and is relieved there will now be no more court dates.

Curious and lively, Lizzy was a “ray of sunshine” who loved to pick flowers, find rocks and watch butterflies, a victim advocate said in the courtroom. She was eager to start kindergarten but nervous about riding her bike without training wheels, and often fell asleep in a pile of her favorite stuffed animals.

“Her joy was so infectious that I somehow had a good time watching Barbies play house with her,” recalled Zachary Black, her uncle.

“You are filth,” he told Whipple. “I hope you spend the rest of your life in a tiny box.”

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley.
Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley.
Mary Whipple

Whipple, shackled and in a yellow jail uniform, hung his head and shook slightly as the girl’s family members — many his own relatives — addressed him one at a time.

“What you’ve done is pure evil,” Lizzy’s grandfather, Norman Wayne Black, told him, adding he won’t get to see her grow or celebrate Christmases with her. “I cannot help every time I see a butterfly or a rainbow but to think of that little girl.”

On May 25, Whipple carried the girl away from her bed and outside the home, raped her and fatally stabbed her in the back with a knife he had taken from her home, according to court records. His sister, Lizzy’s mother, had invited him to stay on her couch in Logan hours earlier after he had been drinking.

Lizzy was reported missing in May after the mother and her fiance woke up to find Lizzy and Whipple gone. Facing a charge of capital murder, Whipple eventually agreed to tell his attorney where his niece’s body was in exchange for prosecutors agreeing not to seek the death penalty. Police found Lizzy’s remains a half-block away from her home, covered by dirt, sticks and other debris, bringing a five-day search to an end.

After receiving additional forensic evidence, prosecutors filed the sexual abuse charges a day after Lizzy was laid to rest in the Logan City Cemetery. Investigators found the child’s blood on Whipple’s pants and DNA on Lizzy’s body that confirmed he had raped her.

Whipple’s defense attorney, Shannon Demler, argued Tuesday for the possibility of Whipple’s eventual release from prison if he is able to change for the better while there.

“This train wreck, I think, had been building for years.” Demler said.

He told the judge his client was abused as a child. Later, while homeless, he struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. There is some good in his client, who eventually provided police with information because he wanted to stop the suffering in his family, Demler said.

Jessica Black, the mother of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley, released butterflies to remember her daughter following the sentencing for Alex Whipple on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in Logan. Whipple, who pleaded guilty to killing his 5-year-old niece, has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. The girl’s relatives called him a “monster” during an emotional hearing.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

But Cache County Attorney James Swink called Whipple’s sexual assault of the girl and his decision to silence her by taking her life “the worst crime I have seen in the 22 years I have worked in the criminal justice system.” He fought emotion outside of the courtroom as he spoke with reporters about the dayslong effort to find the girl and the toll on the community.

Whipple’s statement to investigators that he “blacked out” due to drugs and alcohol follow a pattern of him casting blame on substances in criminal cases, Swink said.

As police interviewed Whipple, court documents say he alluded “to how evil the world we live in is. Alexander would talk about his struggles as a child and how his family has treated him horribly throughout his life.”

The judge sided with Swink, who argued Whipple should spend life in prison without the possibility of parole — plus an additional 75 years. Allen ordered Whipple to serve a life sentence on the murder charge, plus three consecutive terms of 25 years on the remaining charges.