Torrington Murder Case: Defendant’s Competency Questioned

Pettus testified that he "thinks everyone is Torrington is against him" and that the town is filled with ninjas.

June 13, 20215 min read

Sean pettus headshot

By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A case against a former Park County resident accused of murdering a Torrington woman has been put on hold, after questions were raised about his competency.

Last week, a judge ordered personnel from the Wyoming State Hospital to evaluate Sean L. Pettus and determine whether he is mentally fit to proceed.

Pettus, 32, is alleged to have murdered 20-year-old Madison Cook in April by stabbing and suffocating her. He is alleged to have later set fire to the building that housed his business and to have stolen a vehicle. Pettus is being held in jail without bond.

Police found Cook’s body on April 20, with trauma to her head, multiple stab wounds to her chest and a ligature around her neck, and say the evidence points to Pettus as her killer.

“The injuries to the deceased … demonstrate an extended and intentional series of actions taken by Pettus that required multiple steps and more than a brief moment in time to end the life of Cook,” Torrington Police Det. Rebecca Wakamatsu wrote in an affidavit supporting a charge of first-degree murder.

Police say that as they arrested Pettus, he made a series of strange statements. According to the Scottsbluff Herald, Wakamatsu testified at a court hearing last month that Pettus “thinks everyone in Torrington is against him,” thinks the city is filled with ninjas and reported hearing whispering in the adjoining business that he reportedly set on fire.

Not long after that preliminary hearing, Pettus’ court-appointed attorney, Jonathan Foreman, asked that his client be evaluated, saying there was “reasonable cause to believe that [Pettus] has a mental illness or deficiency.”

Deputy Goshen County Attorney Zach Leininger opposed the motion, saying the defense had provided “no evidentiary or factual basis to show reasonable cause to believe the defendant is unfit to proceed.”

However, Foreman pointed to the “symptoms” described at the preliminary hearing and indicated that Pettus has a documented history of mental illness. According to a filing, Pettus was previously diagnosed with schizophrenia and has been admitted to the Wyoming State Hospital multiple times.

On June 2, District Court Judge Patrick Korell ordered personnel from the state hospital to examine Pettus and determine whether he’s fit to stand trial.

Pettus and Cook had been in a relationship for months and had described themselves as married on their Facebook pages. Her family later told police there had been a pattern of violence.

Following an argument on April 17, Cook moved the majority of her items out of their shared apartment, charging documents say, but she returned the following day. She was last seen alive on the night of April 18.

Two residents of the apartment complex reported hearing a woman screaming and loud thumping coming from the area of Pettus’ apartment between 8:30 and 9 p.m. 

“The noises lasted for about 10 to 15 minutes,” Wakamatsu wrote, adding that Pettus admitted to being in the apartment during that time.

Around 9:30 p.m., police say, Pettus recorded a video in the apartment’s bathroom, holding a knife and a bottle of alcohol.

“… Pettus appears to be sober and lucid and looks into the camera and states at one point words to the effect [of]: ‘I don’t care if she hurts or not, this is going to happen. I probably got f—ing miles of f—ing footage,’” Wakamatsu wrote. “Pettus smiled when making this statement and then got in the shower. Pettus then stepped out of the shower and turned off the camera.”

Area residents told Torrington police they saw Pettus acting strangely over the next day. For example, Pettus’ landlord spotted him with a duffel bag containing antifreeze and gasoline, among other items. Police later found the bag, which held cleaning solutions, table cloths, paper towels, cloth towels, latex gloves and a hand saw — items that Wakamatsu said could be used to dispose of a body.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on April 20, a fire was reported at Pettus’ business and — after getting reports that Pettus had been spotted at the scene smelling strongly of gasoline — Torrington police went looking for him. When they entered his apartment, officers found Cook’s blanket-wrapped body in a bedroom, with a plastic bag and two T-shirts around her neck.

Cook was a Torrington native.

Pettus previously lived in Powell, Cody and Florida, among other places. He was paroled last year after serving prison time for a Powell burglary, in which he stole various items from an acquaintance’s apartment in 2016.

In addition to first-degree murder, Pettus faces charges of first-degree arson, theft totaling more than $1,000 and two counts of burglary. He has not yet entered a plea to the allegations and will not do so until the Wyoming State Hospital completes its evaluation. The report is due in 60 days, though extensions are fairly common.

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