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Eleven days after their daughter disappeared from their backyard, Destiny Norton's parents - and the community that prayed and searched for her - heard the chilling details of the 5-year-old's death.
Craig Roger Gregerson, 20, prosecutors said, lured Destiny from her nearby backyard into his home at 518 E. Elwood Place (715 South) the night of July 16, suffocated her, sexually abused her body and then disposed of it in a plastic storage container.
Gregerson was charged Thursday with aggravated murder and child kidnapping, but prosecutors have not decided whether to pursue the death penalty.
Aggravated murder is a capital crime, punishable by death, life in prison with the possibility of parole, or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors said the case is a capital crime because of the alleged kidnapping and because there was sexual desecration of the body, said Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Robert Stott.
It is believed to be the first aggravated murder case charged under the desecration statute, which was only recently added to the list of factors that make a murder a capital crime.
But the DA's office has not yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty, Stott said.
"Before any sentence can be given we have to have a conviction," he said. "Right now we're focusing only on the conviction. When the time comes we will evaluate the case, we will look at all of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and then make that decision."
Stott talked to Destiny's parents Thursday morning but said they do not yet have an opinion about whether Gregerson should face capital punishment.
"We didn't get into that. It's not something they wanted to talk about at this time. They didn't have any information or impressions to give to us at this time," he said.
The child kidnapping charge carries possible sentences of six years, 10 years, or 15 years to life in prison.
Peter Brooks, a spokesman for Rickey and Rachael Norton, Destiny's parents, said at a news conference in Liberty Park on Thursday afternoon that the parents were devastated to learn of the details of their daughter's death.
"But we would like the people to know they are very pleased with . . . the charges that were filed today," Brooks said. "And they are very pleased with the Salt Lake City Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the District Attorney's Office - Mr. Yocom."
Gregerson, an unemployed high school dropout originally of Orem, is scheduled to appear today before 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder via closed-circuit TV from the Salt Lake County jail.
Stott said he will be the lead prosecutor on the case, with deputy district attorney Alicia Cook assisting him.
The charges are based partly on Gregerson's confession. According to a criminal complaint filed in court Thursday, Gregerson told FBI agent Steven Fillerup on Monday that he saw Destiny playing in her back yard on July 16. Gregerson then approached Destiny and persuaded her to come into his house, according to the charges.
Once inside Gregerson's home, Destiny wanted to leave and "became very vocal," according to the charges. Gregerson then placed his hand over her mouth and squeezed until she went limp, the charges state.
Gregerson told the FBI agent that he carried Destiny's body down to his basement and later engaged in sexual activity with her body, the charges state.
Police found Destiny's body in a large plastic storage container in Gregerson's basement on Monday night, prosecutors said. Police and federal agents had been through Gregerson's apartment once before - Gregerson consented to the search - but missed Destiny's body because of the way in which it was concealed.
"My understanding is it is a very tight confined basement with a lot of material down there and this was a plastic container that was closed," Stott said.
On Monday, after Gregerson confessed to kidnapping, killing and sexually assaulting Destiny, officers returned with a search warrant - and information from Gregerson about the exact location of the girl in his basement.
It was unclear Thursday if Gregerson has mental health issues.
"That's something generally we'll learn from the defense," Stott said. "I'm sure once our attorneys have been appointed we'll learn more about that kind of thing, but there is no indication of that at this time."
Stott, who strayed little from the information contained in the charges, declined to say if Gregerson was remorseful. Stott said it was important not to divulge too much information about the case.
"We have an obligation and a duty to make sure this trial is conducted in a fair and proper manner so we have to be careful with the publicity," he said.
At a news conference in Stott's office, Salt Lake City police Chief Chris Burbank praised law enforcement officers - about 100 FBI agents, including behavior analysts and members of the agency's child abduction rapid deployment team worked with local police - and volunteers who helped search for Destiny.
"Because of the response, because of the attention this case received - I think a lot of that had to do with the successful conclusion, albeit tragic conclusion, but that we were able to obtain the information that we were," he said.
Burbank said that during the course of the investigation, officers became emotionally invested in the case.
"Our detectives and the FBI, they fell in love with Destiny, there's no question about that," he said. ''They had great concern. And I was not exaggerating, my concern was, 'Have you gotten any sleep lately? Have you been home and seen your family?' Because they worked tirelessly to come to a conclusion on this.''
Jeannie Hill, a spokeswoman for the Norton family, said the family was surprised - and disturbed - to learn that Gregerson participated in the search for Destiny. Hill said she saw Gregerson herself at the LDS wardhouse where volunteers mobilized every day.
"I was stunned, I was shocked when I finally realized this," she said. "I'm devastated knowing that person was there. I can't even say his name because I feel personally he doesn't even deserve a Christian name."
Stott said he has given the State Medical Examiner's Office - which performed an autopsy on Destiny and confirmed she was suffocated and sexually desecrated - permission to release her body to her family.
Hill said Destiny's funeral arrangements are under way and will be publicly announced when they are finalized.
Tribune news editor Brent Israelsen contributed to this story.
Count 1: Aggravated murder, a capital offense, punishable by life with chance of parole, life without parole, or death. Prosecutors say the murder warrants a capital charge because it included "aggravating circumstances" of child kidnapping and sexual desecration of a dead body.
Count 2: Child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, punishable by 6, 10 or 15 years to life. Police say Craig Roger Gregerson lured Destiny Norton to his home.
Prosecutors say Gregerson confessed to luring Destiny to his home, holding his hand over her mouth until she went limp. He also admitted to abusing the girl's body. Police found her body in a plastic container in his basement. An autopsy found she had been suffocated and then sexually abused.
Gregerson will appear in 3rd District Court, via video from the jail, at 9 a.m. today. A judge will read him the charges, appoint legal counsel and set the next court date.
How to help
Anyone wishing to help the family of Destiny Norton can contribute to a fund under the name of Rachael Norton set up at Washington Mutual.
Neighbor accused of kidnapping, murder