KSL INVESTIGATES

‘An emotional roller coaster’: After uncertainty, I-15 murder case goes forward

Dec 20, 2021, 6:31 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 10:00 pm

SUNSET, Utah — This year will mark the second Christmas that Shilo Stewart’s family has hung up her stocking knowing she won’t be here to see it.

It’s “the hardest thing ever,” her mother, Karen Surles, told KSL.

Stewart is remembered by her loved ones as a beautiful person with a kind heart who was “always wanting to help people,” said her sister, Misty Butcher.

Karen Surles (left) and Shilo Stewart (right).

But the last person Stewart tried to help has since admitted to her murder.

According to court documents, Stewart, 34 offered then 18-year-old Oscar Cuevas-Landa a ride in August 2020. Then, along Interstate 15 in Farmington, he began stabbing her and dumped her out of her moving car into oncoming traffic.

“The nature of how he done it was so awful,” Butcher said. “I mean, I can’t even imagine her last moments of life.”

In September, Cuevas-Landa, now 20, pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder.

But during a scheduled sentencing hearing in November, the family learned he was considering withdrawing his guilty plea. A motion filed by the defense cited a possible claim of self-defense.

“I had thought that, ‘At least he’s acknowledging what he has done,’ and so then when they wanted to change it, it was really upsetting,” Butcher said.

Cuevas-Landa’s attorney could not be reached for comment Monday, but during a status hearing, he told the court his client would be moving forward with sentencing.

He faces a sentence of 15 years to life.

“I just don’t think that that’s very fair considering how that’s what’s left of my sister there,” Butcher said, gesturing toward an urn holding Stewart’s ashes. “And he could potentially live his life, you know, free. It’s very disappointing to me.”

For more than a year, Butcher and Surles have been preparing for the moment they get to address Cuevas-Landa via victim impact statements at his sentencing.

While the latest delay means they won’t get that chance until the new year, Butcher says they’ve also written letters to a future parole board.

“I know that I can go there in 15 years, and they’ll read all the letters that we wrote, and so when it comes up for parole, hopefully, that helps,” Butcher said.

Cuevas-Landa’s sentencing is now set for January 3, 2022.

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‘An emotional roller coaster’: After uncertainty, I-15 murder case goes forward