Joseph Michael Simpson, accused of killing a teenage girl 18 years ago near Heber, made his first court appearance Monday.
Simpson, 46, was advised that he had been charged in Wasatch County’s 4th District Court earlier this month with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony. Prosecutors could opt to pursue the death penalty.
The court also appointed him an attorney — Dana Facemyer, a Provo lawyer.
Simpson is set to make his next appearance, a scheduling conference, the afternoon of Oct. 9. His bail will also be addressed at that hearing, according to court documents.
According to an affidavit for an arrest warrant, Wasatch County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched on Dec. 16, 1995 to a spot along the Provo River bank, about five miles north of Heber, after a citizen found Krystal Lynn Beslanowitch’s bludgeoned body lying on the east bank.
The 17-year-old girl was found naked and bleeding from her head and shoulders. Nearby, several large granite rocks — believed to be the murder weapon — were found covered in fresh blood, according to court documents.
The case went cold until 2008 when better DNA testing became available. In May, the rocks — which initially only yielded a partial DNA profile — were re-tested with new, better technology, and a “major DNA profile” was returned, and matched to Simpson, according to court records.
To corroborate the evidence, Wasatch County investigators flew to Florida on Aug. 25 to get a new DNA sample from their suspect without his knowledge. They followed Simpson to a smoke shop, where he smoked and discarded a cigarette, according to the sheriff’s office.
The test on the cigarette proved another match.
Simpson used to live in Clearfield, but has since been living with his mother and step-father in Sarasota County, Fla., for about 13 years, according to a news release. He was arrested at his Florida home without incident. He was booked into the Sarasota County Jail and waived extradition.
This is the second time Simpson is facing an accusation of murder. He was charged with second-degree felony murder in August 1987 and pleaded guilty two months later, according to Utah court documents.
Simpson had stabbed a man named Paul J. Helminger 13 times. Police arrested Simpson on Aug. 9, 1987, after Helminger, a 26-year-old police informant, was found face-down on the lawn in front of his apartment at 103 E. Center St. in Clearfield with a butcher knife in his right shoulder.
Simpson claims he killed the man in self-defense, but neighbors saw Simpson chasing the victim and swinging the butcher knife as Helminger cried for help, according to trial testimony.
Simpson was paroled from the Utah State Prison in April 1995, and was free at the time of Beslanowitch’s slaying, according to Utah Board of Pardons and Parole records. He was returned to prison briefly in 1997 for a parole violation and, subsequently, was on supervised parole until June 2003.