While Cody Lynn Nielsen will continue to serve life in prison without the possibility parole for killing, dismembering and burying a 15-year-old Hyrum girl nearly a decade ago, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the man’s aggravating kidnapping conviction be vacated.
In December, Nielsen’s attorney argued before five Supreme Court justices that six issues warranted a new trial for the man convicted in the grisly murder of Trish Ann Autry.
Among those issues was the fact that the 1st District Judge who presided over Nielsen’s 2004 trial didn’t follow his own order to move the case from Logan to an out-of-county courtroom. Nielsen’s attorneys also claimed that his trial attorneys did not adequately represent him —in part because they did not challenge the judge as to why the trial wasn’t being transferred — and claimed that a prior conviction the prosecution used in the case as an aggravator against Nielsen wasn’t properly explained to the jury.
However, the high court found none of these issues were egregious enough to warrant a new trial or to vacate Nielsen’s conviction or sentence for aggravated murder.
They did find, however, that because the kidnapping crime was used by prosecutors as an aggravating factor that allowed for aggravated murder charges to be filed, he should not have been charged or convicted of the kidnapping.
Because the aggravated kidnapping and murder charges should have merged, the justices ruled that the charge and the sentence should be tossed.
Trisha Autry disappeared in June 2000 from her Hyrum home. Police originally treated the girl as a runaway until evidence of foul play began to pile up.
Nielsen took Autry to the Millville coyote research facility where he worked as a maintenance man, according to trial evidence.
While there, Nielsen killed the teen, dismembering her using a knife, ax and a hacksaw, and buried her using a backhoe tractor, prosecutors contended at trial. Months later, he dug up the remains, burned them in a fire, crushed them with the tractor’s tires and reburied them.
The charred remains — as well as a mostly intact jawbone, the girl’s shoes, bra and shredded underwear — were discovered almost a year later by cadaver-sniffing dogs. Prosecutors believe Nielsen had kept the jawbone for a time as a trophy from the slaying.
Nielsen told Cache County sheriff’s officers in a January 2003 jailhouse interview that he and the 15-year-old girl had consensual sex before Autry died — accidentally — by falling from the balcony of one of the buildings. He said he panicked and tried to hide her body.
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