Nay homicide illustrates importance of police cooperation
INDIANOLA—Wesley Nay had been missing for more than a month, but it was only after his body was found in a shallow grave near the Sanpete-Utah County border that the case hit the headlines.
The Sanpete Messenger broke the story on Oct. 25, 2016, five days after a pair of hunters reported stumbling across a grave, and the same day investigators, using dental records, determined it was Nay who had been buried at the site.
Within the next few days, the Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, Daily Herald, and several Utah-based television stations reported on the apparent homicide.
Several questions arose.
Why had the body been badly burned?
How long had the body been there?
Were there any immediate suspects?
These questions prompted a series of follow-up reports and ultimately led to the incident being named the Messenger’s top story of 2016.
One of the more interesting aspects of the case was the cooperation required between the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, which led the investigation, and the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office and Mt. Pleasant Police Department, who assisted.
Some of the early tips in the case, in which citizens said they had heard Nay had been set on fire and “buried in a hole,” flowed in to Detective Chad Nielson of the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office.
When the hunters who found the grave called 911, they got the Sanpete County dispatch center. Local officers responded to the report and viewed the gravesite.
After some research, including a search of property records in the Sanpete County Recorder’s Office, Nielson determined the grave was located across the Utah County line and called the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. Within a day or two, officers from both sheriff’s offices met at the site.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, said cases like this are unusual, though not unprecedented.
“Law enforcement agencies work together all the time, [but] it’s not very often on cases like this,” he said.
Because Nay’s body was discovered in Utah County, Cannon’s office led the investigation. But that might have been different if evidence had pointed to Nay being murdered across the county line.
“If we had known that he had been murdered in Sanpete County and then removed somewhere else, it would have gone a different direction,” Cannon said. “At the time that [Nay’s] body was found, we did not know that [for sure].”
As it is, investigators are now mostly certain that Nay, a 22-year-old native of Mt. Pleasant, was murdered at the site where his body was found. An image on a cell phone belonging to Raul Vidrio, 19, also of Mt. Pleasant, showed Nay being forced to dig his own grave.
Vidrio allegedly stabbed Nay several times before burning his body and placing it in the shallow grave.
By the time the grave was discovered, Cannon said crews had to be careful working to exhume the body.
“You have to be very methodical about excavating the grave,” he said. “You almost do it like an archaeological dig in the sense that you do a little bit at a time.”
Care was necessary to preserve any evidence that could have been found along the way.
Officers from all three departments worked to determine who was responsible for killing Nay. Cannon praised local officers in both the county sheriff’s office and Mt. Pleasant Police Department for their thorough work.
“They knew all the players and they were able to help us make connections with who’s who and who knows who,” he said.
Cannon said the culture of sharing and helping across departments is the norm in law enforcement.
“You get people saying, ‘It’s not our case but we’ll do whatever we can to help you.’”
Vidrio has been charged with aggravated murder (a potential death-penalty offense), obstruction of justice, and abuse or desecration of a body, in 4th District Court in Provo. Bail has been set at $500,000.
If found guilty, his punishment for aggravated murder could be death, life in prison without parole, or an indeterminate prison term not less than 25 years.