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Utah Supreme Court considers overturning child killer’s conviction

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Posted at 12:06 PM, Dec 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-05 14:46:06-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn the conviction of Cody Lynn Nielsen for the gruesome murder of a 15-year-old Cache County girl.

Nielsen was convicted of kidnapping, killing and dismembering Trisha Autry, who vanished from her Hyrum home in 2000. Her remains were found at a Cache County wildlife predator research facility where Nielsen worked.

In arguments before the state's top court, Nielsen's lawyer, Craig Peterson, said the judge should have moved the 2004 trial out of Cache County. Indeed, the trial judge granted a change of venue to Davis County because of pre-trial publicity surrounding Autry's death -- but then kept the trial in Logan.

Instead, a jury selected in nearby Brigham City was bused to the Cache County courthouse for every day of the trial.

Justices noted that no member of the jury had been exposed to any pre-trial publicity, and they were impartial in rendering their guilty verdicts. Peterson said the judge still erred in not moving the trial.

"It shouldn't have been tried in Cache County to begin with," Peterson told the justices.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Karen Klucznik told the supreme court that Nielsen still got a fair trial.

"He has to show that the jury was unfair or partial," she said. "He can't do that."

Peterson also argued the jury was not told that Nielsen had a misdemeanor conviction when they decided on a sentence, only that he had a "prior conviction." The jury the convicted Nielsen in 2004 sentenced him to life in prison; prosecutors had asked for the death penalty.

Autry's family sat in the Supreme Court chambers to hear the arguments. Outside court, Trisha's sister, Heather Autry, said she was hopeful the justices would uphold Nielsen's conviction after 13 years.

"It's definitely difficult. It was a long process to the trial. The trial was long, but we got a conviction which was what we wanted," she told FOX 13. "We wanted to get Cody off the streets."