Missing Utah Girl

This Saturday, May 25, 2019, booking photo provided by Cache County Sheriff's Office shows Alex Whipple. The search for a missing 5-year-old girl has stretched into a fourth day in Utah, with police saying Tuesday, May 28 that Whipple, her uncle, is the suspect in her disappearance. Whipple was arrested Saturday and is being held on an unrelated charge.

LOGAN — A Logan man charged with killing his 5-year-old niece pleaded guilty to a slew of charges Tuesday, including aggravated murder.

Alexander William Whipple, 21, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one capital count of aggravated murder in connection with the stabbing death of Logan girl Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley.

He also pleaded guilty of one count of child kidnapping, one count of rape of a child, and one count of sodomy on a child; all first-degree felonies.

In return, three other felonies were dropped against Whipple. The dropped charges include two counts of obstructing justice, a second-degree felony, and one count of abuse or desecration of a human body, a third-degree felony.

In court Tuesday, Whipple hung his head low as his attorney, Shannon Delmer said that the defense and prosecutors had come to a plea agreement. In exchange for the plea, Delmer said the state agreed not to pursue capital punishment against Whipple.

A potential death sentence was taken off the table months ago, however. Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said during a May 29 press conference that Whipple and his attorney exchanged information with investigators that took a potential death sentence off the table. The information ultimately led to police to finding the body of 5-year-old Lizzy.

As Judge Kevin Allen read each of the four charges in the plea agreement to Whipple, the 21-year-old responded each time in a low, quiet voice, “guilty.”

Cache County Attorney James Swink read the facts of the case to the court, but added a preface before he did.

“Some of these details will be difficult to read,” Swink said.

The county attorney said that Whipple had stabbed the girl in the back with a knife he found in the Shelley’s Logan home. At some point during the attack, Whipple sexually assaulted the girl.

After the hearing, Liesel Merrill, a relative of Lizzy’s, spoke to reporters on behalf of the Shelley family. She thanked local law enforcement and the Cache County Attorney’s Office for helping the family thought the horrific process.

“We would like to thank those who have offered words of comfort, thoughts and prayers during our nightmare,” Merrill said. “We are hopeful the criminal case can be resolved quickly so that we can continue to grieve without the worries of the court hearings.”

She went on to remind those following the case that Lizzy was “about kindness, happiness and looking for butterflies and rainbows.

“We ask that people everywhere to live like Lizzy,” she said.

The words “Live Like Lizzy” are etched in the top and the side of the girl’s casket, which could be seen during the child’s funeral on Tuesday, June 4 in Logan.

Dozens made their way in and out of the viewing to pay their final respects to the life of a young child, cut short.

Several speakers, which consisted of friends and family, portrayed Lizzy as an energetic girl who loved nearly everything: bugs, rainbows, her little sister.

Lizzy was patient, according to her aunt Bonnie Black. She was the most patient child she had ever met, and she was the first to report to time out as soon as she was told, Bonnie Black said.

“I will never forget the wonder that would fill Lizzy’s eyes,” Bonnie Black said, in reference to her niece’s fascination with bugs.

After the hearing Tuesday, Whipple’s attorney, Shannon Demler, also addressed reporters outside of the courtroom.

“This case has been a difficult case from the beginning, factually,” Demler said.

The attorney went on to say that he will likely be asking the judge to keep the possibility of parole on the table during Whipple’s upcoming sentencing hearing, which is set for Sept. 24.

“We’re going to argue for what we think is reasonable,” Demler said. “Hopefully, our argument is to give him a chance to change in prison. We know he’s going to be in there a lot of years, and we know that he’s going to face a big penalty here, but hopefully someday he may have the opportunity to be released if he reforms, and changes.”

Lizzy was reported missing in the morning of May 25, prompting a county-wide search.

Hours later, Whipple was arrested in a rural area of Cache County and was “uncooperative” with police regarding the location of the child.

During an interview with police, they allegedly found what seemed to be dried blood on Whipple’s clothing. When left alone in an interview room without handcuffs, Whipple allegedly tried to lick his hands, apparently in the effort to wipe his hands clean.

Whipple reportedly avoided answering questions from police, but later said alcohol makes him “black out” and sometimes he does “criminal things,” but did not elaborate on his statements, according to the affidavit. Police also took a DNA swab from Whipple.

Later, investigators found a broken knife with what seemed to be blood on the blade. The knife was the same brand of knives located in Lizzy’s home, and one knife appeared to be missing from a knife block in the home. Near where the knife was found, in a parking lot of the Bear River Charter School, police also found a PVC pipe with what appeared to be a bloody hand print on it. Police later tested the blood found, which was a match to Lizzy’s DNA profile.

Whipple will continue to be held at the Cache County Jail without bail until his Sept. 24 sentencing in Logan’s 1st District Court.

Jacob Scholl is the Cops and Courts Reporter for the Standard-Examiner. Email him at jscholl@standard.net and follow him on Twitter at @Jacob_Scholl.

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