Editor’s note: This story contains sexually graphic subject matter. Read at your discretion.
By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
A Riverton man sentenced to a decade in prison for sexually abusing a 5-year-old while he was in his late teens is not entitled to have his sentence reduced to probation after completing Wyoming’s Youthful Offender Transition Program, the Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled.
Joshua Anderle, 22, was sentenced by Fremont County District Court in June 2021 to between eight and 12 years in prison for sexually abusing a 5-year-old girl when he was 17.
That sentence was reduced to between six and 10 years after Anderle successfully completed Wyoming’s Youthful Offender program.
But, acknowledging what the case prosecutor called the “disturbing” nature of the crime, the Fremont County District court did not reduce Anderle’s sentence to probation as the Wyoming Department of Corrections had recommended.
When Anderle appealed, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the District court’s decision to keep him in prison, according to a holding order filed Thursday.
Anderle was originally charged with one count each of first-degree sexual abuse and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
The first count stemmed from allegations he had the child give him oral sex; the second count related to having the child maneuver his penis with her hand. Both counts date back to incidents in 2017.
The original affidavit said that in a 2020 police interview, Anderle admitted to letting the girl maneuver his penis like a “gear shifter” and that she gave him oral sex, according to court documents.
Anderle had claimed the girl gave oral sex spontaneously, while the female victim said he asked her to do it. Either way, both parties said the contact was made.
He entered an Alford plea to the second-degree sexual abuse charge in June 2021 and was sentenced moments afterward in the same hearing.
An Alford plea is handled like a guilty plea, but it’s not an admission of guilt: It’s an acknowledgement that the state’s case is strong enough to convict the defendant.
The girl’s mother submitted a statement saying her daughter was traumatized by the abuse, and that she’d written two suicide notes, gained a significant amount of weight and had trouble coping.
Many of Anderle’s friends and family, however, vouched for his good character, some suggesting the girl had lied about the sexual abuse.
Part of the court’s sentence was a recommendation that Anderle complete the Youthful Offender program, a transition program for convicted felons younger than 30 in Wyoming.
When Anderle was poised to graduate the program, the Wyoming Department of Corrections sent the District court a letter of progress about Anderle, and a letter from Anderle, the state Supreme Court’s order says.
The prison department’s letter noted Anderle’s “adjustment, demeanor and progress” and recommended that his sentence be reduced to probation.
In his own letter, Anderle thanked the court for the treatment opportunity and said it “opened his eyes to his criminal thinking and taught him how to better manage his emotions,” the order says. “He regretted his actions and wanted to make amends to those he harmed.”
Anderle said if released, he wanted to live with his grandmother in Lander, attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and help others, the order says.
When the court heard arguments on the plea, Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun said that his office “rarely” disagrees with the prison department’s recommendations of a reduction to probation, but in this case it did because Anderle’s crime was “unusual” and “disturbing,” the order states.
The girl’s mother submitted another statement for the hearing, arguing that releasing Anderle into the county would harm the girl’s mental and physical health, as she was already dealing with trauma, sadness and increases in epileptic seizures due to stress.
The girl was only just beginning to shop and interact in the community, her mother said.
“(Her) mother worried this progress would be lost if (she) feared seeing Mr. Anderle in their small town,” the order reads.
Anderle’s case worker countered, the order continues, saying Anderle has a low risk of reoffending with a sexual offense, but that she worries that putting him with the general prison population could teach him to reoffend.
The District court reduced Anderle’s sentence by two years to a term of between six and 10 years in prison with a projected discharge date of Dec. 9, 2027. But it did not grant his request nor the department’s recommendation for probation instead of prison.
Anderle in his appeal argued that the district court acted improperly in denying the department’s recommendation because, he said, neither the girl nor her mother would be in danger if he were released.
He also argued that the district court should have based its decision on the safety of the entire community, not just the girl and her mother.
Anderle also argued that the district court overlooked his desire to make a positive impact in his community and pursue his “solid” reentry plan, the order says.
But the state Supreme Court determined the district court considered all the evidence and did not act improperly.
Anderle seemed to have misunderstood the district court’s safety concerns, the order states.
“The district court did not perceive a direct safety threat to (the girl and her mother) if Mr. Anderle was released on probation, as Mr. Anderle suggests,” the order reads. “Rather, the court was concerned about the negative impact (they) might experience if they unavoidably saw Mr. Anderle in public in their small town.”