A 21-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually assaulting his sister’s child and stabbing her in the back, causing her death while her family slept.
Alexander Whipple pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, child kidnapping, rape of a child and sodomy on a child, all first-degree felonies.
As part of the plea deal — which included Whipple providing information leading to the recovery of the child’s body — prosecutors will not be seeking the death penalty, Cache County Attorney James Swink said.
Sentencing has been set for Sept. 24.
Leisel Black, Lizzy’s aunt, spoke on behalf the family after the court hearing, saying it was their hope that the criminal proceedings would be resolved quickly so they might grieve without that added burden.
“At this time, we would like to remind everyone that Lizzy was about kindness, happiness and looking for butterflies and rainbows,” Black said. “We ask that people everywhere remember to live like Lizzy.”
Whipple was originally scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, but by waiving his right to that hearing and entering a guilty plea, he also eliminated the need for the Cache County Attorney’s Office to present all of the horrific details in open court.
Instead, Swink summarized that evidence into a few succinct “statements of fact” for the court record: that Whipple seized the child from her bed, that he caused her death by stabbing her with a knife that was taken from his sister’s home, and that his DNA was found inside of her — glaring proof that he raped and sodomized her.
Whipple faces the possibility of 15 years to life in prison for child kidnapping and 25 years to life for the remaining charges, including the charge of aggravated murder, which was originally filed as a capital offense.
The death penalty was taken off the table early in the legal process after defense attorney Shannon Demler was able to obtain information from Whipple that led authorities to the discovery of Shelley’s body on the fifth day after she was reported missing.
He was there when her body was located.
“They don’t teach you that in law school,” he said.
Since that day, Demler has had several conversations with Whipple. He said Whipple knows he did something wrong, he knows there will be consequences — but he has never given any indication of how he is coping with the crimes he has committed.
He described Whipple as “a very lonely individual” who appears to be confused about life and what it is all about.
There is one thing that has not happened during their conversations, Demler said. Whipple has never proffered any kind of reason for raping and killing a small child.
“I don’t think there was a real reason,” Demler said.
While he believes there is an undertone of mental illness, he knows that is not enough to explain Whipple’s actions.
“There is no justification for doing this to a little girl,” he said.
Shelley was reported missing on Saturday, May 25. Whipple, who had been invited to his sister’s home the night before, was also missing. He was taken into custody later that day in a rural area near Hyrum, but Shelley was not with him.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers from all over Utah and Idaho assisted in the search, maintaining hope that she would be found alive even when it appeared to be impossible.
On May 29, the fifth day, the Cache County Attorney’s Office charged Whipple with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body. Hours later, her body was found, just 600 feet away from her home.
Whipple’s case was amended with sexual assault charges several days later after the medical examiner’s report was complete.