A Payson couple has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging they lured a man to a vacant parking lot to rob and kill him to get cash for Christmas.
Stephan A. Sutton, 27, and Chaelisa J. Nielsen, 20, have each been charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, both first-degree felonies; conspiracy to commit murder, obstructing justice and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, all second-degree felonies; and failure to respond to an officer’s signal to stop, a third-degree felony. Sutton also was charged with escape, a third-degree felony, and failure to stop at command of law enforcement, a class A misdemeanor.
The couple entered the not guilty pleas to all counts on Wednesday in 4th District Court. Last week, a judge heard evidence over three days about 28-year-old Jeff Vern Jensen’s Nov. 23 death, and ultimately ruled that there was enough evidence to order Sutton and Nielsen to stand trial on the charges.
Authorities allege that the couple had planned for about a week to rob Jensen of drugs and money so they could have money for the holidays and buy a ring for Nielsen, according to charging documents.
So they arranged to buy drugs that would have cost them about $1,000 and met up with Jensen at a vacant, unlit parking lot of the old Flying J in Payson on Nov. 23.
Sutton drove up to the meeting with a shotgun on his lap, pointed the gun at Jensen and demanded his belongings, according to court documents. When Jensen objected, police say Sutton shot him in the chest, then reloaded the gun and gave it to Nielsen.
Charging documents allege that Nielsen encouraged Sutton to shoot Jensen and that the two had always planned to kill Jensen so as to leave no witnesses to the crime.
After the shooting, Sutton searched Jensen’s body and took the victim’s money, drugs and cellphone, court documents state.
As the couple fled the parking lot, police said, they argued about where they should take the truck to wash off Jensen’s blood.
At that point, a Payson officer spotted the truck tailgating another vehicle and decided to pull it over.
Sutton tried to avoid the officer and threw the shotgun out the window.
When Sutton stopped and fled on foot, Nielsen did the same, hid in some bushes and called someone to pick her up and take her to another location where she hid.
When Payson officers finally cornered Sutton, he asked them to shoot him, charging documents show. Officers instead used a Taser to subdue him.
After he was handcuffed, police said they found Sutton was covered in blood and in his pants was a wad of bloody money and two knives. Police reported he was also asking for his girlfriend, who he said was in the truck.
He told officers “it was self defense, I had to do what I had to do he came at me,” according to charging documents.
Officers said when they tried to have Sutton checked by paramedics, he fled again and had to be tackled. Then, when they put him into the back seat of a patrol car, he managed to escape once again and fled several blocks with his hands cuffed behind him.
He was found a hiding under a vehicle.
The couple will be back in court on July 31. They are being held at the Utah County Jail on a $1 million cash-only bail.