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Spanish Fork • Richard M. Davis' first instinct was to reject the deal prosecutors were offering the man charged with murdering his daughter Kiplyn.
While Timmy Brent Olsen would plead guilty to manslaughter, admit he saw someone strike her in the head with a rock and helped that person bury her body, it came at a price Davis initially thought was too steep: Olsen would never have to say where she was.
"I really didn't want to do it," said Davis, who has kept his porch light burning for almost 16 years, vowing never to turn it off until Kiplyn was found. "I wanted to go to trial and give him life in prison and not give him anything unless he gave up Kiplyn."
But, at a family meeting Tuesday night, it was Karissa, one of Davis' daughters, who persuaded him to take the deal. She argued that the family needed to resolve the matter, and not have their lives revolve around an endless series of court hearings.
So Davis consented to the deal that keeps Olsen behind bars until 2022 and gives the Davis family and the community that rallied around them something they had sought for more than a decade: certainty.
"It is good to finally have someone say, 'This is what happened, and I was part of it,' " Davis said.
It's a sentiment that Davis' friends and neighbors share as well.
"We hope that what happened with Timmy Olsen at this time will lead to finding Kiplyn," said Mike Gardner, Kiplyn's algebra teacher at the time she disappeared.
Kiplyn disappeared from Spanish Fork High School on May 2, 1995. Gardner said Kiplyn was a pretty redhead who was full of life.
Almost immediately, rumors circulated that Kiplyn was a victim of foul play, and that some of her fellow classmates Olsen and David Rucker Leifson were involved.
But her disappearance also became a rallying point for the close-knit community. Daniel Boothe, one of Kiplyn's classmates, remembers how businesses along Main Street displayed posters with Kiplyn's pictures for years, replacing them when they became weathered.
For the past five years, until Iowa-based Lee Enterprises shuttered it, the Spanish Fork Press ran a weekly reminder for people to keep their porch lights on until Kiplyn was found.
That community support was one of the reasons Olsen's attorneys had the case moved to West Valley City, fearing that an impartial jury could not be seated in Utah County.
But despite the public interest, and the rumors that always circulated below the surface about who did what to Kiplyn, the case went cold until 2005, when Davis persuaded U.S. Attorney Paul Warner to convene a federal grand jury.
John F. Mendenhall, the city water commissioner and a Davis family friend, believes it was a code of silence among teenagers that kept the truth from coming to the surface for so long, as well as the thought that someone else would do something.
In 2005 the investigation flared back to life, thanks to U.S. Attorney Paul Warner, who convened a grand jury to investigate the case.
Davis said it was the federal investigation that broke the case open, resulting in perjury charges against five people including Olsen and Leifson and eventually murder charges against Olsen and Christopher Neal Jeppson. Leifson, Scott Brunson and Gary Von Blackmore pleaded guilty to perjury charges. Olsen and Jeppson were found guilty of perjury by a federal jury.
"I would not be where I am without the grand jury," said Davis, who is now lobbying the Legislature to pass a law that would make it easier to use grand juries in state investigations. He said it may spare other families the heartache that his endured for so long.
Jeppson eventually pleaded no contest to obstructing justice and signed a sworn statement that he knew nothing about what happened to Kiplyn.
On Friday, Olsen pleaded guilty to second-degree felony manslaughter and as part of the plea agreement will serve up to 15 years to run concurrently with the 150 months he has been serving for lying to investigators about the case. While he admitted to witnessing someone kill Kiplyn by striking her with a rock, Olsen will not name the killer because he fears for his safety in prison, his attorney said.
Prosecutors last week said they believe the killer is either Brunson, Leifson or Blackmore.
While Olsen's plea does not bring closure, it removes the uncertainty that had shrouded the case for years.
"It was like being on the roller coaster all the time, or watching it," Mendenhall said Saturday. "I think what happened yesterday confirmed what has been suspected from the first days. And the suspects have never changed."
While Olsen didn't reveal where Kiplyn was buried, Davis is hopeful that he will find her and lay her to rest properly.
He hopes that without a murder charge hanging over Olsen's head and a defense attorney running interference that they will be able to sit down and talk.
Davis also wants the family of the one who killed Kiplyn to persuade their son to come clean about what happened and help him get his daughter home.
"I'm hoping with this plea that we will be able to heal some wounds," Davis said.
In the meantime, he will keep the porch light on for his daughter.