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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A man sentenced to up to life in prison on allegations he raped a woman while holding a box cutter to her throat in 2010 has lost his attempt to have his sentence reduced.
Wyoming’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Christopher David Harrell, who tried to have his sentence of 50 years to life reduced on the grounds he was sentenced twice for what amounted to the same crime.
According to a ruling issued in an earlier appeal by Harrell, which was also rejected, he was convicted in 2010 on three counts of first-degree sexual assault, one county of kidnapping and one count of aggravated assault and battery.
According to the earlier ruling, a former girlfriend of Harrell’s, who had obtained a protection order against him, let him stay at her home in Gillette. The two began fighting when, court records said, Harrell threatened her with a hammer and box cutter and raped her. The assault continued through the night.
Before the assault, according to reports at the time in the Gillette News-Record, Harrell asked the woman if she had ever heard of Ted Bundy, a serial killer who decapitated some of his victims.
He told the woman Bundy had worn a severed head on top of his own while driving across three states and then asked the woman if she thought Harrell could reach California while wearing her head.
In his latest appeal, Harrell said he should not have been sentenced to 10 to 50 years on each of the first-degree sexual assault convictions.
Harrell argued that to be convicted of the crime of kidnapping, his victim must have suffered substantial harm, which occurred when he assaulted the woman. He asked that at least one of his sexual assault convictions and sentences should be merged with the kidnap conviction and sentence.
“Mr. Harrell contends that the elements of first-degree sexual assault were included in the ‘substantially harmed’ element of his kidnapping sentence because the sexual assaults were substantial harm, and therefore, he was sentenced twice for the same crime,” the opinion said.
But justices said the two crimes do not overlap and are separate crimes as defined by Wyoming law, so they cannot be merged.
“Applying the same elements test, first-degree sexual assault and kidnapping each require proof of an element that the other does not,” said the opinion, written by Justice Kari Gray. “Mr. Harrell’s claim of double jeopardy is without merit.”
Justices also rejected Harrell’s claim that his previous attorneys in his case were ineffective because they failed to raise the double jeopardy issue earlier his case.
“Where is no error, there is no basis to claim ineffective assistance of counsel,” the opinion said.
The appeal was the fourth filed by Harrell since his conviction. The Supreme Court declined to hear two of his appeals.