PROVO — Christopher Jeppson shuffled into the courtroom Wednesday afternoon with a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
His family members put their arms around each other and wiped away tears as they watched him sit down between his two attorneys.
Less than an hour later he walked out, still shackled at hands and feet but free of a murder charge for a crime he says he knows nothing about.
"Christopher Jeppson knows nothing about the circumstances or cause (of Kiplyn Davis' disappearance)," said his attorney Scott Williams. "He has never wavered on that. Now (he) can start cleaning up from the tornado that has hit his life."
Jeppson was charged with murder in 2007 in the death of Kiplyn Davis, a sophomore at Spanish Fork High School who disappeared on May 2, 1995. Her body has never been found.
And although prosecutors tried to link Jeppson to the crime through two joking-type statements he made regarding Davis, he has maintained he doesn't know what happened to her.
Because of that, Jeppson was only willing to plead no-contest Wednesday to an obstruction of justice charge, based on his 2005 grand jury testimony, that meant no increase in prison time, Williams said.
Jeppson is already serving a five-year prison commitment for a federal perjury conviction related to the case.
So, as part of the plea deal, both sides agreed to a one-step reduction of the obstruction of justice charge, meaning that Jeppson was technically sentenced on a third-degree felony.
That zero-to-five prison sentence will be served at the same time as his federal sentence, which is appropriate, given that they are the same facts in both cases, Williams said. Jeppson also agreed to drop his appeal of his federal sentence.
The final element of the plea deal was a small, signed statement from Jeppson. It said only two things.
First, that he is the defendant in the case and second, "I have no knowledge of, nor involvement in the cause or circumstances of the disappearance of Kiplyn Davis."
This prevents him from coming back later and trying to add or remove blame from someone else.
Although they were hoping for more information about Kiplyn, this is an appropriate solution, said prosecutor Mariane O'Bryant.
She said she still doesn't believe Jeppson is as innocent as he claims to be, but it's hard to prove guilt without a body, or blood, or a murder weapon or DNA evidence or anything actually linking Jeppson to the alleged crime.
"It's a difficult case from the beginning," she said. "We got some, we lost some. But when you take a jury, you never promise anybody anything."
For the Davis family, it feels mostly like a loss.
"It hurts quite a bit," said an obviously upset Richard Davis after the hearing. "We didn't really want to go with this, but we have to go with it. It's more than we've had in the past. We'll ride with it, go on with our lives."
Over the past 14-plus years, parents Richard and Tamara Davis have faithfully attended nearly every hearing in federal and district courts, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by Judge Lynn Davis in 4th District Court.
"This is a painful but only partial closure of this case as it relates to the Davis family and also the Jeppson family," Judge Davis said. "The Davis family is no closer to discovering the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of their beautiful daughter than they were before. There is some measure of closures but nothing that comes close to any final closure."
There is still a murder case against co-defendant Timmy Brent Olsen; however, his case is on hold due to a pending appeal.
For Jeppson's family, Wednesday meant a huge sigh of relief.
They too, have attended hearing after hearing and listened to hours and hours of testimony, waiting for their side of the story to be seen.
"I'm just glad it's done," Jeppson's wife, Jessika, said after the hearing.
The family have already braced themselves for five years without Jeppson while he's serving his federal sentence, so they can handle this, they said.
The last-minute plea deal canceled a three-week jury trial slated to begin in late May.
Williams said the deal was mutually arranged and represents not only the right decision but a financially prudent move that saves tens of thousands of dollars and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars in trial and appeal costs.
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