CEDAR CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) — A man has been charged with first-degree murder in connection to the disappearance and death of 26-year-old Stevie Wilkerson of St. George, who was found in a remote area of western Iron County last month.
Joseph Edward “Joey” Fought, 30, made his first virtual court appearance Tuesday afternoon from the Iron County Jail, where he has been in custody since he was extradited from California last week. He now faces charges of aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, kidnapping, and possession of a firearm by a restricted person, in addition to a previous charge of possession of a stolen vehicle, which are all second-degree felonies.
Wilkerson was last seen leaving a motel in St. George on Aug. 9. The following day, the victim’s mother took to social media to plead for help on the missing person’s case.
“Please help me find my beautiful baby girl,” Wilkerson’s mother wrote on Facebook, adding that Stevie had been “taken against her own will” and was “being held hostage” by a couple she “accidentally crossed paths with” at a St. George hotel.
The mother indicated the suspects were a man was “calling himself Joey” and a woman “calling herself Jose,” who she said “are armed and have threatened to kill her,” but officials with the St. George Police Department reported they did not have evidence to indicate Stevie was in danger.
“There was no evidence to say that she was taken against her will or that she was in danger,” St. George police officer Tiffany Atkin told ABC4 News Aug. 31. “There was no information leading to that.”
According to court documents, a white Chevy Colorado rental vehicle was reported stolen out of Arkansas and listed on the NCIC database on Aug. 4. Investigators say that all crimes allegedly occurred around the date of Aug. 9, when video surveillance showed Fought and 27-year-old Brittany Elizabeth “Josie” Phillips, who is also in custody in Iron County, in the pickup truck driving in St. George. The vehicle was seen parked at hotels and restaurants in Washington County.
Fought and Phillips allegedly drove the truck to Iron County that day, where their cell phone location data pinged near Kanarraville. An unidentified witness told investigators in St. George that she, Fought, Phillips all drove to Cedar City. She stated that they transported Wilkerson in the truck before she “was removed from the truck and left near the city of Enterprise.” Video surveillance shows Wilkerson with Fought and Philips inside the truck, according to court documents.
Wilkerson’s body was reportedly found on Aug. 23 at the border of Washington and Iron County near the location described by this witness.
“Some hunters who were out scouting for elk came across her and reported it to law enforcement, who were able to identify her as the missing person out of St. George,” Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson said. “She was found exposed to the elements.”
As a capital murder case in Utah, the possibility of life without parole is on the table as well as the death penalty. After the arraignment, the Iron County Attorney’s Office will have 50 days to make a decision whether or not to seek death in this case. The second-degree felony charges are each punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, according to the 5th District judge.
Fought is in the process of being appointed qualified counsel under rules of criminal procedure. In the meantime, a local Iron County public defender is walking him through any questions he has. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 5, but the Iron County Attorney’s Office says the hearing is unlikely to go forward because of his new counsel.
According to Dotson, Fought and Phillips both have extensive criminal history from the eastern United States, where they are from. Phillips is not facing any new charges beyond the initial second-degree felony charge of possession of a stolen vehicle.
“Our crime scene investigators and the Iron County Sheriff’s Office has done an outstanding job and has worked tirelessly to gather evidence so the public can find out what happened to Stevie Wilkerson,” Dotson said. “My office is working alongside them and will continue to dedicate all the time and resources necessary to bring justice to this case.”
“Stevie was a rare find in a human being, with her soul so pure and heart so full of love,” friend Emily Bennett wrote in a statement to ABC4 News last month. “No one can understand the evil in today’s world, and we’re all having a hard time believing how anyone would ever want to harm such an innocent person.”