Judge orders trial in 1993 murder of 92-year-old Utah woman
Ogden • John Valdez still has a clear memory of the crime scene from 20 years ago: Grace Mae Odle, 92, had been sexually assaulted and badly beaten inside her room at an assisted living home.
The now-retired Ogden police officer remembers Odle. He remembers the room. He remembers their investigation, which quickly went cold after the May 3, 1993 incident.
As he recalled those memories on the witness stand Friday, he still tears up as he remembers Odle's badly beaten face and body.
"I just held her hands," Valdez said. "And she just kept asking me, 'Why? Why did he do this to me?' "
Odle died six days after the brutal attack. But it took over twenty years for police to peg down who they believe beat and sexually assaulted the elderly woman.
In May, Stephen Ellenwood, 41, was arrested at his home in Alaska and charged with aggravated murder after a DNA match placed him at the 1993 crime scene.
On Friday, evidence in the two decades old case was presented in Ogden's 2nd District Court during Ellenwood's preliminary hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, 2nd District Judge W. Brent West ruled there was sufficient probable cause for Ellenwood to stand trial on the charge.
After West bound over the case, Ellenwood entered a "not guilty" plea to the charge.
The case is eligible for capital punishment, and prosecutors now have 60 days to decide whether they'll seek the death penalty. A status conference was set for March 5.
Ellenwood, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, fidgeted and shook his legs Friday while witnesses described the crime scene in Odle's apartment near 24th Street and Adams Avenue.
Emelda Trujillo, who worked at the assisted living home, testified Friday that she was working her night shift on May 3, 1993, when she heard a faint cry for help.
"Help, help, help me, please help me," Trujillo recalled the voice coming from Odle's apartment.
Trujillo said she went to Odle's apartment, opened the door, and saw a shirtless man who was holding his jeans up around his waist. Trujillo said the man punched her, and fled the apartment complex.
Valdez said he responded to Odle's apartment and gathered evidence, including a fur-trimmed jean jacket and a man's shirt that was left in the woman's room. Just a few hours later, he was called to another crime scene: the alleged sexual assault of a 57-year-old woman a few blocks away at 23rd Street and Washington Boulevard. That woman told Valdez that a man had stabbed her with a letter opener, and told her to lie down in some nearby bushes. She complied, and he subsequently raped her.
Ogden Police Detective Richard Childress the current investigator on the case testified Friday that the letter opener used to assault the second woman was likely the same one that was missing from Odle's apartment after she was assaulted.
Childress said that in October 2012, he was informed that a match was made between DNA in the second rape case and Ellenwood, who had been incarcerated at an Idaho prison from 2002 to 2008 for an aggravated assault conviction.
The detective testified that the match was made only recently because DNA testing has become more sensitive as science and technology improved over the years.
Paul Rimmasch, a crime scene investigator for Weber Metro CSI, testified on Friday that a fingerprint lifted from Odle's ground level window where police believe her assailant entered her apartment matched Ellenwood's.
Childress said DNA found on the male clothing left behind at Odle's apartment also matched Ellenwood's DNA after a 2012 testing.
Childress said that when he went to Alaska last May to arrest Ellenwood, he questioned him in a holding cell, where the suspect denied ever being at the assisted living home and denied any involvement in either sexual assault case.
Ellenwood was returned to Utah in July, and is being held without bail at the Weber County jail.