It is an aggravated murder, which is the most serious charge that we have. It does give an opportunity for him to be in prison for the rest of his life. —Prosecutor Dean Saunders
OGDEN — An Alaska man who admitted to brutally killing a 92-year-old woman in 1993 was given a life prison sentence Tuesday.
Stephen Ellenwood, 41, was convicted of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, for the May 3, 1993, death of Mae Odle. Second District Judge W. Brent West sentenced the man to life in prison with the possibility of parole, but said he would recommend that Ellenwood never be paroled.
"I think you're the type of person that, unfortunately, needs to be locked up in a situation for the rest of your life, and that will be my recommendation to the board of pardons," the judge told Ellenwood.
Police said Ellenwood, who was 21 at the time and living in Ogden, broke into a room at the Adams Place retirement home by climbing in through a window, then attacked and sexually assaulted Odle. He was startled by an employee checking on Odle and fled.
The elderly woman was taken to a local hospital where she died six days later due to blunt force injuries to her head and chest.
"This is a very hard situation," son Robert Odle said at the sentencing Tuesday. "I'd like to tell you a little bit about my mom if I may. She raised five boys with her sense of love of country, love of God and her family. The most important thing in her life was her family."
Though police investigated thoroughly and a second woman was also sexually assaulted by a man matching the description of the person who attacked Odle just a few hours later, the case went cold for years. Ellenwood was in and out of prison between 1995 and 2000 for unrelated crimes, including an aggravated assault in 1994, and was living in Alaska when DNA evidence linked him to Odle's death.
Prosecutor Dean Saunders said Ogden police officers John Valdez, who originally investigated the murder, and Rick Childress, a cold case investigator who tirelessly pursued leads in the case, are to credit for the arrest.
"Without both of those guys, I don't think that would ever have been put together," Saunders said.
Saunders said he would join the judge in recommending that Ellenwood never be released, but said the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will ultimately determine how much time Ellenwood spends behind bars. Attorneys on both sides of the case stipulated that Ellenwood will serve a minimum of 25 years.
"We just believe, based on everything, that he should never be paroled," Saunders said.
While some members of Odle's family were hoping for the death penalty in the case, the resolution that allowed for Ellenwood to plead guilty, serve at least 25 years and up to life in prison and face recommendations that he never be paroled brought closure to the 20-year-old case, the prosecutor said. He said there are issues with cold cases and the availability of witnesses and evidence that made the plea agreement the best option.
"It is an aggravated murder, which is the most serious charge that we have," Saunders said. "It does give an opportunity for him to be in prison for the rest of his life."
The judge said Ellenwood's crime was one of selfishness that called for a life behind bars.
"But you got so involved in the substance abuse and the alcohol and the drugs that all you were thinking about was Mr. Ellenwood without the consequences that rippled across this whole family, this whole community and the whole situation," West said.