A man convicted of murdering his niece in Logan last May was given the maximum sentence for each charge he faced in court on Tuesday.
Judge Kevin K. Allen sentenced Alexander Whipple to 25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the aggravated murder of Elizabeth Shelley, along with three consecutive sentences of 25 years to life for the other three charges filed against him.
“You will never breathe free air again,” Allen told Whipple at the sentencing hearing Tuesday.
Allen addressed the positive aspects of the case — the hard work put in by law enforcement, the many hours worked by prosecuting and defense attorneys, and the help of volunteers throughout the community.
“You must not lose faith in humanity,” Allen said to the court, likening humanity to an ocean untarnished by a few dirty drops.
Six family members addressed the court and Whipple at the sentencing. Whipple — with his eyes on the floor, and a tissue in his shackled hand — cried briefly and silently as the family upbraided him.
“Alex, you are filth,” one of Elizabeth’s uncles said, “and I hope you spend the rest of your life in a tiny box.”
Director of Victim Services Terryl Warner told the court about items she found in Elizabeth’s room — rainbow-colored shoes, the last movie she watched, “Tarzan,” and dozens of hidden plastic Easter eggs with random contents.
Warner said Elizabeth’s mother, Jessica Black, felt unable to be on the same block as Whipple, let alone the same room. However, Black addressed the sentencing in a press conference at the Historic Cache County Courthouse after the hearing.
“In these dark months, since we lost Lizzy, my light comes from all of those in our community who stood by us, loved us and never gave up,” Black said. “Every little thing you did was incredible.”
Black spoke to remembering the love of her daughter and choosing not to focus on the negative things but to live by Elizabeth’s example.
“I would give anything to be reunited with her,” Black said, “to hug her and hold her one more time.”
Outside the courthouse, Elizabeth’s family released several Painted Lady butterflies in her memory.
The five-day search for Elizabeth rattled Cache Valley for the entirety of its duration. Several law enforcement agencies in the valley were involved in the search with assistance from the FBI and local volunteers.
Elizabeth and Whipple were reported missing around 10 a.m. on May 25. Whipple was detained around 3 p.m. later that day in the south end of the valley after he refused to identify himself and failed to stop at the command of law enforcement.
A probable cause affidavit stated Whipple had drug paraphernalia and alcohol on his person, as well as a metal baseball bat stuffed in his back pocket and tucked under his jacket. Whipple was charged with several misdemeanors.
The search for Elizabeth continued as evidence connecting Whipple to the disappearance mounted. Police found a broken kitchen knife matching those in Black’s home and what was described as a “hastily buried” skirt with stains consistent with blood. Whipple’s partial palm print was found in a red substance on a PVC pipe, along with DNA from both Whipple and Elizabeth.
On May 29, less than two hours after announcing the charges, it was reported that police had found Elizabeth’s body near her home. As a part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty in exchange for information leading to the missing 5-year-old’s remains. Cache County Attorney James Swink said the decision allowed the family to have a proper funeral and viewing.
Whipple pleaded guilty on Aug. 13 to rape of a child, sodomy on a child, aggravated murder and child kidnapping — all of which are felonies of the first degree.
Norman Black, a spokesman for the family and grandfather to Elizabeth, said he was pleased with the sentence.
“We all deal with tragedy in different ways,” Black said. “I don’t hate Alex — I pity him.”