CEDAR CITY — A man authorities suspected of involvement in the death of 26-year-old Stevie Shay Wilkerson of St. George has been charged with capital murder in connection with the case.
Joseph Edward “Joey” Fought, 30, made his initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon via video link from the Iron County Jail, where he has been incarcerated since his extradition from California last week.
In addition to the possession of a stolen vehicle charge that he was originally charged with, Fought now faces three additional felony charges: aggravated murder, kidnapping and possession of a firearm by a restricted person. The murder charge is a first-degree felony, while the other three charges are second-degree felonies.
All four crimes are alleged to have occurred “on or about Aug. 9,” which is the day investigators say Fought drove a pickup truck from St. George to the Cedar City area with Wilkerson, another female passenger and 27-year-old Brittany Elizabeth “Josie” Phillips, who is also in custody in Iron County.
The vehicle stopped in a remote area of western Iron County, at which point, according to information given to authorities by the other woman in the truck, Wilkerson was “left near the city of Enterprise.” Her body was reportedly found more than a week later near the location described by the other woman.
On Aug. 31, police arrested both Fought and Phillips in Barstow, California, after which they were jailed on the stolen vehicle charge, as the rental pickup truck they had been driving had reportedly been stolen out of Arkansas.
During Fought’s initial court appearance Tuesday in Iron County, 5th District Judge Ann Marie McIff Allen read aloud the charges from the amended information statement that had been filed Monday by Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson. Allen also described the potential penalties for each offense.
The aggravated murder charge is punishable by life in prison without parole or an indeterminate prison term of not less than 25 years, which may be for life, she said, adding that the second-degree felony charges are each punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years and a $10,000 fine.
Additionally, the capital murder charge could potentially carry the death penalty, although Dotson said afterward he has not yet decided whether he will pursue the death penalty in Fought’s case.
“I will make the decision whether or not to seek the death penalty after the arraignment stage,” Dotson told Cedar City News, adding that he has 60 days to decide according to Utah code.
During Tuesday’s court appearance, Fought told the judge he hadn’t known about the newly added charges.
“This is the first time I’ve been officially notified of what I’m being charged with,” Fought told Allen. “I haven’t had time to review any of this. I don’t know about the things that you’ve said today. So I need time to speak with my people and see if I can’t get a lawyer. It seems like it’s going to be a little more serious.”
Allen then appointed defense attorney Troy Sundquist to be Fought’s legal counsel for the time being, as another lawyer will need to be assigned later to take over the case since capital offenses have more stringent rules regarding who may serve as court-appointed defenders.
Following the hearing, Dotson told Cedar City News he appreciates the solid police work that led to Fought and Phillips being apprehended and charged.
“The investigators and CSI with the Iron County Sheriff’s Office have been incredibly dedicated in collecting evidence that would help us know what happened to Stevie Wilkerson,” he said. “I am grateful for their hard work and professionalism. My office has worked closely along the way as we made decisions on appropriate charges.”
“We are determined to see that justice is done in this case,” Dotson added.
Also on Tuesday afternoon, Phillips made her initial appearance before the judge. Unlike Fought, she saw no additional charges beyond the original count of possessing or receiving a stolen vehicle, a second-degree felony.
Fought is scheduled to make his next court appearance Oct. 5, when a bail review and a preliminary hearing are scheduled to be heard by 5th District Judge Matthew L. Bell. Phillips is also scheduled to appear that same afternoon for a bail hearing on her case.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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