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Heber • Jurors on Thursday found a Utah parolee who had killed before guilty of aggravated murder in the slaying of 17-year-old Krystal Lynn Beslanowitch, who was beaten to death on the banks of the Provo River more than two decades ago.
The 4th District jury will return Friday morning to decide whether Joseph Michael Simpson, now 49, will be sentenced to life with the possibility of parole or life without parole. Prosecutors had opted not to seek the death penalty.
After hearing closing arguments in the case, jurors deliberated about three hours on Thursday before finding that Simpson had caused the teen's death on Dec. 15, 1995.
They then heard arguments on whether Simpson intentionally caused the death under either of the aggravating circumstances alleged by prosecutors that he had previously been convicted of murder or that the Beslanowitch homicide was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or exceptionally depraved manner.
After another round of deliberations, the jurors returned the aggravated murder verdict.
During closing arguments Thursday, a prosecutor told jurors that DNA found on the body of Beslanowitch, and on the rocks believed to have been used to beat her to death, was enough evidence to convict Simpson.
"They found one comparable DNA profile," Deputy Wasatch County Attorney Case Wade said during closing arguments.
And that profile, he said, is from Simpson.
But besides the DNA profile, other evidence supported a guilty verdict, Wade said. That includes Simpson's familiarity with the area where Beslanowitch's body was found and his statements to two people in jail admitting that he had committed the crime, he said.
Defense attorney Richard Gale, though, said that while the two jail house snitches did not make deals to testify, they have the prospect of gaining something in the future.
Gale also argued there were other suspects in the slaying, including somebody who had threatened to kill Beslanowitch in a dispute that had something to do with drugs.
The defense attorney acknowledged that Simpson had sex with Beslanowitch, but noted that DNA from an unknown male was found on the rock, and an unknown male's DNA was found on the victim's body.
Police said at the time of her death that the girl worked as a Salt Lake City-based prostitute.
Beslanowitch was last seen alive on Dec. 15, 1995, by her boyfriend, when she left their North Temple motel to get a bite to eat at a nearby convenience store. When she did not return, the boyfriend called police.
Beslanowitch's body was found on the east bank of the Provo River about 5 miles north of Heber by a rancher. The teen was naked and had been bleeding from her head and shoulders. Several nearby granite rocks were covered with fresh blood, according to court documents.
The case had gone cold until 2013, when newer technology produced a "major DNA profile" from the rocks, which was matched to Simpson, a former Utah resident, court documents say.
Sorenson Forensics, a private DNA-testing lab that aids Utah law enforcement, used a special vacuum to pick up "touch DNA" from two rocks that had never been tested. The vacuum, a product of M-Vac Systems in Sandy, originally was designed to suck bacteria off food but is now used to collect genetic material that's left over when someone touches or leaves saliva on a surface.
Wasatch County investigators flew to Florida and got a new DNA sample from Simpson without his knowledge by following him to a smoke shop and picking up a cigarette that he discarded, according to the sheriff's office. A test on the cigarette allegedly provided another match.
Simpson, who had been living with his mother and stepfather in Sarasota County, Fla., for about 13 years, was arrested there without incident.
At the time of Beslanowitch's slaying, Simpson was on parole for the earlier homicide.
Simpson was charged with second-degree murder in the Aug. 9, 1987, stabbing death of Paul J. Helminger, a 26-year-old police informant who was found on the lawn in front of his Clearfield apartment with a butcher knife in his right shoulder. Simpson pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to five years to life in prison.
Simpson was paroled from the Utah State Prison in April 1995, and was free at the time of Beslanowitch's slaying, according to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole records. He was returned to prison briefly in 1997 for a parole violation and was on supervised parole until June 2003.
Denine Hunsaker Sullivan, the mother of Helminger's daughter, who was 3 months old when her father was killed, attended the closing arguments.
"I'm here because I want to be a voice for my daughter," she said.
Sullivan said her daughter is now 29 and has two children who will never know their grandfather. She is upset that Simpson served only eight years of his prison term and hopes she will be able to address the judge before sentencing.
"He only paid that small price when we keep paying," Sullivan said. "My daughter grew up without her dad. He's destroyed a lot of people. "