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Doug Robinson: Cold code of silence in Kiplyn tragedy

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 15 2011 12:38 a.m. MST

Timmy Olsen as he walks into 3rd District Court last Thursday, when he finally disclosed what happened to Kiplyn Davis.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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Richard Davis, the father of Kiplyn, the girl who can't come home, called me at my home last Thursday afternoon to tell me the news.

He is a former college teammate of mine, and we talk occasionally about the disappearance of his daughter 16 years ago, the tragedy that will define his life. On this occasion, he called to say that he was hopeful and excited that he would finally learn the fate of his daughter the next day in court.

He had agreed to a plea deal for Timothy Olsen because his family couldn't take anymore and because his legal advisers believed this was Richard's best chance to get what he wanted — to learn what happened to his daughter in 1995, but, even more so, to learn the location of her body.

"This is huge," he said. "It's the biggest thing to happen in years. I'm going to tell (Olsen) I'll be his biggest advocate if he tells us where she is; I'll be there when he comes up for parole and lobby for his release. Who knows, though, he could change his mind when he gets to court."

The next day, Olsen described for the first time the fate of Kiplyn — that she was murdered in Spanish Fork Canyon, that he saw an associate strike Kiplyn in the head with a rock twice and hide her body, that later they returned to move her body to another location.

But Olsen — one of five black-hearted men at the center of this case — refused to name the murderer. He also defied a brokenhearted father his one simple, most ardent request — the whereabouts of Kiplyn's body. Even after he heard Richard's courtroom statement offering once again — as he has many times over the years — to advocate his release from prison if he would only help him bring his daughter's body home.

Olsen kept his secret.

So have the others who allegedly know what happened to Kiplyn — David Leifson, Scott Brunson, Chris Jeppson and Gary Von Blackmore.

The conspiracy of silence continues.

That might be the single most remarkable part of this long nightmare.

Nobody can keep a secret like this, especially partners in crime. They inevitably turn on each other. Yet somehow, these men have maintained a wall of silence or lied to protect one another even when it means years in jail. What misplaced loyalty or intimidation could be so dark and powerful?

"From the experience I've had with drug cases and conspiracies and people who are arrested, they almost all confess," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Benson, who worked on the Davis case for five years. "It's unbelievable they've been able to maintain this code of silence for going on two decades. Unbelievable. There's no loyalty among thieves, right? Somebody spills the beans."

I talked to Paul Warner about the case in 2006 when he was the U.S. attorney. He also marveled at the silence.

"Most of the time when you give someone a target letter (telling them they are the target of a federal grand jury investigation), they roll up," he said. "They still opted to come in and testify. They brazenly thought they could go in there and say what they wanted, not knowing we had a lot of additional information already. They felt they could lie and get away with it. That turned out to be their undoing. We went after them for perjury. But I really am truly amazed and shocked that a relatively small community had a lot of people in it who knew a lot about it and didn't come forward because of fear and intimidation ... I'm surprised that it's held together this long."

The legal challenges of trying the men for murder are formidable to say the least, with no body, no physical evidence and no circumstantial evidence. The case against the men is based on the drunken bragging of Olsen and catching them in a lie about their whereabouts the day of the murder.

Olsen will be imprisoned for up to 15 years for manslaughter. Chris Jeppson is in federal prison for another three years for obstruction of justice; Scott Brunson and Garry Von Blackmore still face charges for obstruction of justice, but have already been convicted of perjury.

David Rucker Leifson is in federal prison for perjury, but will be released in November. It has been reported that Olsen previously made statements that place Leifson at the crime scene and that Olsen once started to write a statement implicating Leifson during an FBI interview, but then crumpled it and threw it away. Yet Leifson will be a free man later this year.

Aside from the silence, Benson marvels at the case for another reason. "These guys aren't that smart," he says. "I doubt (the crime) was premeditated and (yet) they've been able to get away with this. It's not like they were professional hit men who masterminded this."

So the men continue their silence, refusing even to offer the location of the body as a small consolation to a father and mother worn out with grief. Richard agreed to the plea deal because "my wife and daughters have had enough."

One man who is intimately involved in the case noted the cruelty and lack of compassion among the accused. "They don't have a soul," he said. "You can feel the evil on them — I mean Rucker and Olsen, not the others."

e-mail: drob@desnews.com

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