Thirteen years after Stephanie Eldredge was reported missing, the criminal case against her killer came to a close.
District Judge Joel Tingey ordered Kenneth Ryan Jones, 32, to serve a minimum of nine years in prison for manslaughter with an indeterminate period of six years in prison. He also sentenced Jones to an indeterminate period of five years in prison for destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, that will be served consecutively with his manslaughter sentence, meaning the time must be served separately.
A misdemeanor sentence of one year for resisting or obstructing officers was also made consecutive with his felony sentences. The unified sentence of 10 to 21 years is also consecutive with his 2011 prison sentence for arson, meaning Jones will not be eligible for parole until 2033.
Jones was arrested in 2019 after Idaho Falls Police Department Lt. Jessica Marley began focusing on the cold case. Jones pleaded guilty in October. When he pleaded guilty, Jones admitted to pushing Eldredge, causing her to fall back and hit her head, which later lead to her death. He then wrapped her body in electric tape and a blanket and buried her in a shallow grave in the foothills.
Bonneville County Prosecutor Daniel Clark said in court that the theme of Thursday's sentencing would be closure, which had been denied to the Eldredge's family first when she went missing in 2007, then when her body was found in 2010, buried in the foothills with no explanation for how she got there.
Eldredge's family members told Tingey how those years of uncertainty affected them. All three of her daughters gave victim impact statements saying they felt the loss of their mother and the shock of finding out it was Jones, the brother of the man Eldredge was dating at the time of her death.
Taylor, Eldredge's oldest daughter, said she had four photos of her mother to remember her by, and stories from those who knew her.
"I don't remember her voice," Taylor said. "I don't remember her laugh."
Taylor said she had always been "the girl whose mother was killed," and that others would ask her about it.
"You've ruined the lives of so many, but most of all you've ruined your own," Taylor said to Jones.
Eldredge's two younger daughters gave similar statements. They grew up without any old videos or recordings of their mother.
"You took another human's life, and you hid it for 13 years," the middle child said.
The youngest daughter, who Eldredge was caring for the day she was killed, said Jones lived with her family for 12 years before she knew her uncle was the killer.
"He watched my dad struggle for every day and shrugged it off like it was nothing," the girl said.
Jamie Robinson, a family member of Eldredge's, gave an impact statement on behalf of Eldredge's mother, who has declined in health and was unable to attend the sentencing.
"Not one day goes by without a conversation about Stephanie," Robinson said. She said Eldredge's mother had suffered nonstop from her daughter's death.
Robinson also emphasized the constant fear the family felt when Eldredge disappeared, the horror of learning she had died, and the grief of her funeral.
"I don't know how to forgive someone who is so evil," Robinson said of Jones.
Zachary Eldredge, who was Stephanie's husband before they separated, said he wished Stephanie could have been there to see their child grow.
"I don't think we can ever be normal with this experience," Zachary Eldredge said.
Defense Attorney Curtis Smith reached a joint recommendation for the sentence with prosecutors during mediation. He said Jones had been remorseful each time they spoke about what happened. He argued, however, that Jones was 18 at the time he killed Eldredge, and that they were living in a home where drug use was common, creating an unstable environment for him.
Smith said Jones had wanted to come forward about the death, but was afraid his family would disown him.
"Kenny could not get over the mental anguish of would his family love him if he came forward and told the truth," Smith said.
Smith also said Jones had not intended to kill Eldredge when he pushed her during the argument.
Clark said he appreciated Smith's and the victim's family's cooperation during the mediation, but he challenged Jones' version of events.
"The defendant says this was an accident," Clark said. "The conduct was intentional."
Clark said that while Jones may not have meant to kill Eldredge, he pushed her on purpose. Clark said Jones also did not call for help, preventing any chance of saving her.
"Stephanie could have survived this at that time," Clark said.
Jones gave a statement, calling himself a "coward" for not coming forward.
"I don't expect forgiveness from anyone, and I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me," Jones said.
Tingey agreed to accept the binding recommendation made by both attorneys. He said he read Jones' statement describing what happened, and found it "plausible, but suspect." He also noted Jones' decision to not come forward sooner.
"Pleading guilty is a mitigating factor, but that didn't occur for 13 years," Tingey said.