It’s what one Utah lawmaker calls a “sick case” — a teenager is accused of encouraging a friend to kill herself, buying her the materials to do so and then filming the 16-year-old girl’s suicide on a cellphone.
After the girl’s May 2017 death, prosecutors charged 18-year-old Tyerell Przybycien with first-degree felony murder.
But questions have already been raised about whether helping someone commit suicide amounts to murder — and Utah currently doesn’t have any clear assisted suicide laws.
Rep. Michael McKell, R-Spanish Fork, wants to change that.
He has sponsored House Bill 86, which would amend Utah’s manslaughter statute to include assisted suicide. This means a person would be guilty of a second-degree felony — which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison — if prosecutors can prove he or she provided “the physical means” for someone to commit suicide.
McKell said Thursday that Przybycien’s case spurred his proposed law change. And while he says he hopes Utah County prosecutors are successful in convicting the defendant of murder, he wants to ensure that there were other charging options available in the future.
“We need to make sure we empower prosecutors to have the tools necessary to seek justice in an appropriate way,” he said. “[Przybycien’s case] showed potential flaws in the law.”
The lawmaker said Utah is one of only a handful of states that do not address assisted suicide either in a manslaughter statute or a separate law. McKell said he believes there is a “growing trend” of cases like Przybycien’s, where someone is accused of providing the materials or encouraging someone to kill themselves.
If passed into law, HB 86 would not be retroactive — so it could not be applied to Przybycien’s case.
But Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander, who is prosecuting the case, said Thursday that he is not sure they would have charged the case differently — even if Utah’s manslaughter law did include assisted suicide.
“We looked at other states and those kind of [assisted suicide] statutes that are there,” he said. “Under these facts, we have what we believe amounts to murder.”
Grunander said that, generally speaking, adding language about assisted suicide to Utah’s laws would be helpful, an “additional tool” that prosecutors could use when making charging decisions.
Przybycien’s attorneys, Neil Skousen and Gregory Stewart, have argued in court papers that while their client may have provided the materials for Jchandra Brown’s suicide, the girl ultimately made the decision to kill herself — and could have changed her mind at any time. They claim that a murder charge is too harsh.
But 4th District Judge James Brady ruled in October there was probable cause for Przybycien to go to trial for murder because “it is reasonable to infer” that the girl would not have died on May 5 if not for the defendant’s actions.
Przybycien has pleaded not guilty to murder, as well as a misdemeanor count for failure to report a dead body.
A trial date has not yet been set. Instead, Przcybycien’s attorneys this week asked that their client’s competency be evaluated. Court papers detailing what led them to the request were filed under seal, and no other details are publicly available. A Jan. 9 hearing date has been set.
Brown was found dead by turkey hunter on May 6 near Maple Lake in Spanish Fork Canyon, hanging from a noose tied to a tree.
A cellphone found under her feet contained a 10-minute recording of the girl’s death, which authorities allege Przybycien filmed. A receipt also was found nearby with Przybycien’s name on it that showed the recent purchase of rope and other items.
Prosecutors have argued that without Przybycien’s help — which included buying the rope, tying a noose and setting up the pedestal for her to stand on — Brown likely would not have died that night.
Prybycien also bragged to others before her death that he was going to “help kill” Brown, according to prosecutors, saying it would be “like getting away with murder.”
“He had a fascination with death,” Grundander has argued. “ … He used her suicidal ideations for his own purposes.”
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.