Thursday , April 10, 2014 - 1:03 PM
OGDEN — The man who was arrested more than 20 years after killing a 92-year-old woman pleaded guilty to aggravated murder Wednesday, receiving a sentence of 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Stephen Ellenwood, 41, stood before Judge Brent West in 2nd District Court in Ogden to confirm he understood the terms of his plea deal with prosecutors. He will serve his sentence for the violent murder of May Odle in her retirement home in 1993.
Ellenwood climbed through Odle’s bedroom window at Adams Place on 24th Street in the middle of the night, then beat and sexually assaulted her. Odle lived for a few days before dying of her injuries.
Investigators hit dead ends in their case until last year when advancements in forensic identification allowed investigators to compare DNA samples from the crime scene to Ellenwood and form a likely match.
The cold case was reopened and police discovered that Ellenwood was living in a small town near Juneau, Alaska. Ogden detective Rick Childress interviewed Ellenwood and found probable cause to arrest him. He was extradited back to Ogden to face the charge. All of his charges except aggravated murder were dismissed due to the statute of limitations, which says a suspect cannot be charged with certain crimes after a period of time has passed.
After 1993, Ellenwood was arrested several more times in Ogden in the ensuing years without becoming a major suspect in the case. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor firearms charge in November 1993, an aggravated assault charge in March 1994, avoiding prosecution in December 1996 and a disorderly conduct misdemeanor charge in June 1998. He pleaded no contest to driving under the influence in July 2001.
In October 2012, a possible fingerprint match was identified by the Idaho Department of Corrections, using the Combined DNA Index System, a national database. Officials there contacted the Ogden Police Department and told them Ellenwood’s prints matched those found at the scene where another woman had also been raped and attacked near Adams Place on 24th Street on the same day Odle’s bedroom was invaded.
Police had long suspected the two crimes were related, largely because a letter opener from Odle’s room had been found as a possible weapon at the second crime scene. The ensuing investigation led to Ellenwood being arrested in Alaska in May. He was extradited to Utah in July.
In a May interview with the Standard-Examiner, members of Odle’s family related their affection for her and said she was a self-reliant person her whole life.
“She was about 5 feet tall and very meek, very soft,” Odle’s grandson, Bruce Odle, 59, said at the time. “But she was very strong, both in her standards and her beliefs. She was just that kind of person.”
Odle provided for her five sons while working at Hill Air Force Base, and every one of them fought in World War II, Bruce Odle said. She was also an avid churchgoer in Clearfield, he said.
“She was the matriarch of the family,” Bruce Odle said. “You were not allowed to say anything bad about anybody. She was a friend to everyone.”
Even when an arrest was made in the case so many years later, Bruce Odle said, the family still grappled with the horror of the attack.
“I think when it happened, it was so heinous, it was such a shock,” Bruce Odle said. “In some ways, it’s worse now, having the photo of the guy and everything this time around. When it happened, there was a protection there, a numbness, that isn’t there now.”
Contact reporter Ben Lockhart at 801-625-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Lockhart.
Reporter Andreas Rivera contributed to this story.
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