Man, woman charged after fatal shooting outside Millcreek residence in March 2020

James Dekota Brunson, 24, and Anika Celeste Thorpe, 23. Photo Courtesy; Salt Lake County Jail

MILLCREEK, Utah, July 7, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — A man and a woman have been charged after the fatal shooting of a woman outside a residence in Millcreek in March 2020.

The victim was 57-year-old Linda Nemelka, who was shot on March 11 last year while she sat in her vehicle in front of her friend’s house on Red Sage Court.

The Unified Police Department at the time offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a homicide suspect.

Probable cause statements from the 3rd District Court of Salt Lake City said James Dekota Brunson, 24, and Anika Celeste Thorpe, 23, are each facing a charge of murder, a first-degree felony; aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; and purchase, transfer, possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person, a second-degree felony.

Both are being held without bail.

The statements, which are nearly identical, say that on March 11, 2020, a UPD officer responded to a shots fired call in the area of 4586 S. Red Sage Court.

“Upon arrival, he observed a Hyundai in the driveway of the residence with the driver’s side door open and the car engine running,” the statement said. “Inside he located Ms. Nemelka slouched over the center console in an unconscious state. Paramedics arrived and located two gunshot wounds, one through Ms. Nemelka’s chest and one through her right thigh. She was later pronounced deceased at the hospital.”

Detectives investigated the crime scene and recovered a single 9 mm casing near the vehicle. They also noted a shoe print on the lower inside passenger door that appeared to match the shoes worn by Nemelka when she was discovered.

Detectives interviewed several neighbors in the apartment complex. Numerous neighbors said they saw a dark-colored SUV speed away from the scene with its lights off.

On Feb. 9, 2021, detectives were notified of an informant who had information concerning Nemelka’s death, the statements said. Police interviewed him with his attorney present.

“The informant stated that Jared Brunson and Anika Thorpe were staying at his apartment at the time of the homicide,” the statements said. “During the evening of the homicide, the informant gave Brunson money for drugs. Brunson contacted the informant later that evening saying he was late and to look up the shooting in Millcreek on the news. Brunson stated that he and Thorpe were ‘hitting a lick’ and it went bad.”

The term “hitting a lick” is slang for committing a theft or robbery.

The informant further told detectives that Brunson and Thorpe were driving around in a stolen maroon Sequoia at the time of the homicide, the statements said.

Detectives located a stolen vehicle report for a maroon Sequoia occurring on March 8, 2020, in American Fork. Additionally, detectives located a report from March 10, 2020, the day before the homicide, where Thorpe’s mother reported to Orem Police Department that Brunson and Thorpe allegedly came to her house in a red Toyota Sequoia and stole more than seven firearms as well as ammunition from her residence.

Officers with the Orem Police Department and the Utah County Major Crimes Task Force located the two suspects on March 12, 2020, the day after the homicide, in West Jordan in possession of the stolen Sequoia, the statements said. They were arrested and have been being held since that time at the Utah State Prison.

During that encounter, Brunson attempted to run from officers and was observed throwing a black item from his waistband approximately 11 yards from where he was tackled and arrested, the statement said. The black item was located and was determined to be a 9 mm Ruger pistol. Officers located several other firearms in the stolen Sequoia.

Ballistic comparisons were made between the 9 mm casing recovered from the scene of the homicide to the 9 mm Ruger pistol Brunson dropped during his encounter with law enforcement the day after the homicide. A forensic examiner with the Utah State Crime Lab determined that the recovered casing was fired from the recovered firearm based on forensic analysis.

DNA comparisons were also made between swabs from the recovered 9 mm firearm and swabs of both Brunson and Thorpe. A forensic scientist discovered the presence of Thorpe’s DNA on the recovered firearm and could not exclude Brunson as a contributor to the mixed DNA profiles discovered on the firearm, the statements said.

Both Brunson and Thorpe were on parole at the time of the offense and have substantial criminal histories. Brunson was on parole for attempted aggravated robbery. He also has prior felony convictions for assault against a police officer, theft, and fleeing.

Linda Nemelka. Photo: Unified Police Department

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