IDAHO FALLS — After two days of mediation, the man accused of the 2007 killing of Stephanie Eldredge has taken a plea deal and admitted to causing her death.
During an impromptu change of plea hearing Thursday, 32-year-old Kenneth Jones pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and concealment, and alteration or destruction of evidence, both felonies. He also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor resisting and obstruction. As part of the plea agreement, the charges were amended from second-degree murder.
“First off, I’d like to say that ‘I’m sorry’ is a very inadequate word to apologize for what happened that day, but I want the victims to know that I’m very sorry,” Jones said as he pleaded guilty.
He said there was a fight between him and Eldredge on Aug. 20, 2007. Jones said he pushed Eldredge. She fell back and hit her head, which led to her death. Jones said to his “great shame,” he did not know what to do and “panicked” after she died.
Jones admitted he hid her body in the Ammon foothills. He then lied to officers to cover his tracks.
Eldredge, the mother of three children, was 21 years old when she was killed.
The investigation into her disappearance began in 2007 after she vanished from her apartment on Holbrook Drive in Idaho Falls. Left behind were Eldredge’s baby daughter, cell phone, car keys, purse and even her shoes. Investigators believed foul play was involved but were unable to prove it.
At the time of her death, Eldredge was living with her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s mother and her boyfriend’s half-brother, Kenneth Jones.
Documents say Eldredge’s boyfriend and her boyfriend’s mother were both cooperative and forthcoming with authorities after she disappeared.
“However, it became immediately apparent that Kenneth R. Jones was not being truthful, and the investigation focused on Jones as a potential suspect,” court documents state.
Authorities learned more in 2009 when Jones, while in jail for an unrelated crime, told his cellmate that he had violently killed Eldredge, according to what the cellmate later told investigators. To read more about that investigation, and the statements made by the cellmate, click here.
Eldredge’s badly decomposed body was discovered on April 23, 2010, buried in a shallow grave in the foothills just east of Idaho Falls.
Despite the jailhouse confession and the recovery of the body, authorities said they still didn’t feel there was sufficient evidence to charge Jones with the death, and the case went cold.
But in 2014, then-Idaho Falls police detective Jessica Marley was assigned to Eldredge’s case. In 2017, Marley, who had been promoted to sergeant, gave the department a briefing on the investigation. During the briefing, Marley said she believed the case could be solved if given the time to dedicate attention exclusively to it.
Marley reviewed all the information gathered in the case. In November 2018, she was placed on the case full time. She worked with her fellow detectives and with “Cold Justice,” a true-crime television series that helped fund and expedite the testing of old evidence with modern technology.
On March 23, 2019, the IFPD announced that Jones was being charged with second-degree murder in Stephanie’s death. Since then, Jones has sat in the Bonneville County Jail awaiting trial as well as serving time for a felony third-degree arson case, which he was already in custody for from 2011.
With Thursday’s plea agreement, the case is finally coming to a close.
As a result of the guilty plea, Jones avoided the potential life sentence that could come from a second-degree murder charge. Felony voluntary manslaughter holds up to 15 years, and concealment of evidence holds up to five years in prison. The misdemeanor charges tacks on an additional year of jail time.
Sentencing for Jones is scheduled for Jan. 21 before District Judge Joel E. Tingey.