A man and a woman have been charged in connection the fatal shooting of a mother of five in a Utah driveway more than a year ago.
James Dekota Brunson, 24, and Anika Celeste Thorpe, 23, each face charges of murder, aggravated robbery and purchase, transfer, possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person.
Around 10:10 p.m. on March 11, 2020, Linda Nemelka, 57, had just finished eating dinner with a friend, according to Deseret News. She got into her car to go home when she was shot.
When police arrived, the driver’s side door of the car was open, the engine was still running and Nemelka was slouched over the console, the Deseret News reported.
Nemelka was taken to the hospital where she died from her injuries, that included one gunshot wound through her chest and another through her right thigh, according to the Gephardt Daily.
Nemelka’s daughters told the Deseret News their mother might have tried to fight off the suspects because she had items of sentimental value in the car she didn’t want to have stolen, like her daughters’ baby books.
Detectives at the scene recovered a single 9mm casing near the vehicle, the Gephardt Daily reported.
Neighbors said they saw a dark-colored SUV speeding away shortly after the shooting, according to the Deseret News.
For months after the killing, there were no suspects in the case. The Unified Police Department at the time offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a homicide suspect.
On Feb. 9, 2021, detectives were notified of an informant who had information concerning Nemelka’s death, and police interviewed him with an attorney present, according to the Gephardt Daily.
“The informant stated that Jared Brunson and Anika Thorpe were staying at his apartment at the time of the homicide,” the statements said, according to the Gephardt Daily. “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 also told detectives Brunson and Thorpe were driving a stolen maroon Sequoia at the time of the homicide. Detectives found a stolen vehicle report for a car matching that description from March 8, 2020, the Gephardt Daily reported.
Officers with the Orem Police Department and the Utah County Major Crimes Task Force found the two suspects on March 12, 2020, the day after the homicide, in possession of the stolen Sequoia.
Brunson and Thorpe have been held at the Utah State Prison ever since for those charges unrelated to the murder.
When Brunson was arrested, he attempted to run from officers and was observed throwing a black item from his waistband, according to Gephardt Daily. The black item was located and was determined to be a 9mm Ruger pistol. Officers also found several other firearms in the stolen vehicle.
Ballistic comparisons were made between the 9mm casing found at the shooting scene and the 9mm Ruger pistol, authorities said.
It wasn't until this week, though, the duo was charged in connection to the murder.
Both Brunson and Thorpe were on parole at the time of the shooting and have substantial crimnal histories, according to the Gephardt Daily.
Both Brunson and Thorpe are being held without bail.
“I think closure will come in time,” the victim’s daughter Jessica Nemelka told Deseret News. “Having answers is definitely helpful, it really is. But I think closure will come when everything is finished. It's going to be a long court process, it’s going to be a very long timeline from here on out. And having answers is part of its own closure. But it doesn't change what happened, it doesn't bring her back. But it does help."