Provo • A Utah teenager is accused of buying a friend a rope, tying a noose in it and then filming the 16-year-old girl’s suicide on a dark May night in a wooded area in Payson Canyon.
But was it murder?
Prosecutors have charged 18-year-old Tyerell Przybycien with the first-degree felony, as well as a misdemeanor count for failing to report a dead body.
They say Przybycien’s actions in helping 16-year-old Jchandra Brown plan her death were criminal.
And according to evidence presented Wednesday during a preliminary hearing, Przybycien himself told a police detective during a recorded interview: “I feel guilty. I feel like I did murder her. I helped her so much.”
But the teen’s attorneys say they “have issues” with the murder charge and will fight to get it tossed or reduced to a lesser count.
“We’re arguing that this tragic story, this young lady’s passing away, was a suicide,” defense attorney Neil Skousen said outside of court, “and that my client’s actions did not rise to the level of murder.”
After hearing testimony and evidence Wednesday, 4th District Judge James Brady did not immediately rule on whether there was probable cause for Przybycien to stand trial on the charges. Instead, attorneys asked for time to file written briefs. Oral arguments are expected Oct. 10.
Utah County sheriff’s officials have said the 16-year-old Spanish Fork girl was found dead by turkey hunters May 6 near Maple Lake. Brown was hanging by a noose tied to a tree.
Under her feet, Utah County Sheriff’s Detective Quinton Fackrell testified, authorities found two grocery bags. One plastic bag contained a cellphone, a fast-food restaurant name tag and a notebook with a brief suicide note signed by Brown, instructing the reader ”watch the video, it’s on my phone.”
A receipt also was found nearby with Przybycien’s name on it that showed the recent purchase of rope and other items, according to officials.
The 10-minute video that was on Brown’s phone was played in a silent courtroom Wednesday, showing the final moments of the girl’s life purportedly filmed by Przybycien. A male voice — which authorities say is the defendant’s — can be heard throughout the video, muttering ”Um” and ”OK” as the girl hangs.
He at times seems to be checking on her, once saying, “Thumbs up if you’re OK,” but at other times makes comments about the girl’s death, saying, “That’s when the brain stops getting oxygen.”
The video ends with a male voice saying, “I guess I’ll just leave this here now.”
In a later interview with police, Pryzbycien said he left the girl there because he was scared.
Brown’s family members — who were in court Wednesday and watched the 10-minute video — said after the hearing that they hope for justice in the girl’s death, but would leave it up to the courts to determine what that might be.
The girl’s mother, Sue Bryan, said she had dyed her hair blue, like her daughter did, in the girl’s memory.
Aunt Polly Meija described Brown as a typical 16-year-old girl.
“Her problem was, she thought she found a friend,” the aunt said, “and she found a monster.”
Weeks before Brown’s death, Przybycien messaged a 16-year-old friend and said he wanted to help the girl kill herself, saying “Its like getting away with murder!”
That girl read the messages in court Wednesday, saying that on the day that Brown died, Przybycien messaged her and said, “I helped her do it too and I feel so guilty.”
He also told the girl that he “might go to jail,” according to another message sent that same day.
Przybycien also allegedly told investigators that he helped Brown tie the noose and researched how to tie a noose a month earlier when the girl told him she was suicidal, according to charging documents.
As police investigated the girl’s death, they allegedly found child pornography on Pryzbycien’s phone, according to charging documents. He also faces five charges of sexual exploitation of a minor in a separate case, which is trailing the murder case.
People who have suicidal thoughts can call 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or visit the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition’s website for help. A smartphone application called SafeUT also allows users to chat or call a crisis counselor, and submit tips.