18-Year-Old Pleads Guilty In Rape, Murder Of Young Girl

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A Utah man accused of raping and murdering his 12-year-old neighbor pleaded guilty on Dec. 11 to juvenile and adult charges, settling a case that has been on hold for more than two years. 

Jayden Sterzer, 18, was charged with rape of a child and aggravated murder in 2015 after his neighbor, Kailey Vijil, 12, was found dead in a field. 

Sterzer, who was 15 at the time, was accused of luring Kailey out of her home late at night by asking her to help him look for a missing pregnant cat, according to the Deseret News. Kailey's body was found three hours later, naked, in a field with a shirt wrapped around her neck. Sterzer was identified as a suspect after his DNA was found on her body. 

After his arrest, a judge ruled Sterzer was unable to understand the charges. Sterzer has the mental capacity of a third-grader due to partial fetal alcohol disorder. 

The case was put on hold for almost a year while Sterzer was treated by the Department of Human Services, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. He was ruled competent to stand trial in November. 

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Sterzer's guilty plea is a mixed bag that will likely see him remain in juvenile detention until he is 21 before being transferred to state prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. He faces 15 years to life behind bars.

Sterzer pleaded guilty to one count of rape of a child in juvenile court before separately pleaded guilty to murder and sexual abuse of a child in adult court.

"We were scrupulous and careful and thorough in explaining to him exactly what he would be pleading guilty to in juvenile court and adult court," Sterzer's lawyer Michael Sikora said during the hearing, according to the Deseret News. "He seemed to grasp what we were trying to do. We had that discussion with him more than once." 

Spencer Banks, attorney for the Vijil family, said they are satisfied with the plea deal, according to KSTU. 

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"It's been an unbearable two and a half years that they've had to go through," Banks said, reports The Salt Lake Tribune. "[The plea deal] assures he will be in custody for an extremely long time, and that's where they take the most comfort." 

At the end of the hearing, Judge James Michie stated that the next time Sterzer appears in court, the focus would be on Kailey and her family. 

"Now the tide has turned, finally, and our focus is not going to be just on you anymore," he said. "Our focus is also going to be on Kailey and her family and what you took from them. Because there's no judge on the planet that can stop what you started that night, and it will be my focus when I see you next time."

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