Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill into law on Thursday that blocks parole for people convicted of homicide who do not cooperate with law enforcement to recover the remains of victims.

The move comes after the Utah State Legislature passed Senate Bill 124, which is sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, in February. The bill passed unanimously through the Senate on Feb. 8 and through the House on Wednesday with a 70-1 vote. Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, is the only lawmaker who voted against the bill.

When asked about his vote, Thurston said he “appreciate(s) very much the pain that victims’ families endure and that they may need closure that can come from locating their loved one’s remains.”

“However, I am also concerned about the government using the threat of continuing to take away someone’s freedom to coerce confessions and evidence from people that have already been convicted and have paid their debt to society,” Thurston told the Daily Herald in an email.

The bill amends Utah Code to state that the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole “may not parole any offender convicted of homicide unless … the remains of the victim have been recovered … (or) the offender can demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the offender has cooperated in good faith efforts to locate the remains.”

“I’m actually surprised that we don’t do more of this across the nation,” McKell said during a Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Jan. 29. “I think before you have an opportunity to parole, you need to make a good faith effort to help find the remains. I know people can be reformed in prison and that’s great, but we need closure for families. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

The legislation is personal for McKell, who told lawmakers he is a “good friend” of Richard Davis, the father of Kiplyn Davis, who disappeared from Spanish Fork High School in May 1995 when she was 15.

Timmy Brent Olsen, who was convicted in 2006 of lying to a grand jury investigating Davis’ disappearance and who allegedly admitted to raping, killing and burying the girl in Spanish Fork Canyon, led Utah County prosecutors on a “wild goose chase” and changed his story about where she may be buried, The Associated Press reported.

“I’ve known him (Richard Davis) for years,” McKell told the Senate on Feb. 8. “And to see the pain and anguish in his eyes is still difficult to me as I look at this bill.”

Days earlier, McKell told the Senate that Davis’ remains “have never been located” and said the bill would help “parents (and) friends who have lost people in a similar situation.”

“There are families out there that need this,” the Spanish Fork senator said.

McKell noted that the bill does “provide some safeguards” for someone who “really truly participates in good faith to help find remains.”

The bill states that it “takes effect upon approval by the governor” since it was approved by “two-thirds of all the members elected to each house.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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