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Uncle admits to killing 5-year-old niece, Elizabeth Shelley

File photo, credit: Eli Lucero, Pool)

LOGAN — Will he get life in prison, or not?  That’s the only question left after the man accused of killing his five-year-old niece in Logan pleads guilty to aggravated murder and child kidnapping.

Alexander William Whipple entered 1st District Court in  Logan on Tuesday in shackles and admitted to murdering and sexually abusing his 5-year-old niece Elizabeth Shelley.  The plea came as part of an agreement with prosecutors that will spare him from facing a possible death sentence.

Whipple, 21, entered guilty pleas to charges of aggravated murder, child kidnapping, the rape of a child and sodomy on a child, all of which are first degree felonies.  Another charge, including desecration of a body, was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Elizabeth was reported missing on May 25 when her mother woke to find the child, and Whipple, were missing from their house.  Whipple had stayed the night on the family’s couch after a night of drinking according to court documents.

After Whipple pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, sexual abuse and child kidnapping, her family gathered outside the courtroom to thank everyone who showed them support.

“We would like to thank those who have offered words of comfort, thoughts and prayers during our nightmare.  We miss Lizzy, immensely,” says Lizzy’s aunt, Liesel Merrill.

She also says the family just hopes the sentencing process moves quickly so they can continue to girve without worrying about a court hearing.

“At this time, we would like to remind everyone that Lizzy was about kindness, happiness and looking for butterflies and rainbows.  We ask that people everywhere remember to live like Lizzy,” she says.

Prosecutors say Whipple took a knife from his sister’s home, stabbed Lizzy in the back and piercing her lungs, which caused her to drown in her own blood.  They also found Lizzy’s blood on a knife and on Whipple’s pants.  They also say Whipple’s DNA was found on Lizzy.

The death penalty was taken off the table months ago in exchange for information about where Whipple hid Lizzy’s body.  County Attorney James Swink says they’ll ask for Whipple to spend life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“We are hopeful that the judge will understand the gravity of the case.  We’re hopeful that the judge will give that kind of sentence,” Swink says.

Even Whipple’s defense team believes it will be hard for the judge not to hand down a life sentence.  However, defense attorney Shannon Demler says they’ll ask for less time.

Demler says, “Our argument is going to be to give him a chance to change in prison.  We know he’s going to be in there for a lot of years.”

Sentencing is scheduled for September 24.

(Contributing: Mike Anderson, KSL TV, Annie Knox, Deseret News)