Police Say Cheyenne Man Strangled Girlfriend To Death Because She Bit His Finger

About two days after Cheyenne police arrested Charles Rees Karn, 19, for allegedly strangling his girlfriend for biting his finger, the woman died.

Clair McFarland

June 19, 20235 min read

Charles rees karn mug

Two days after police arrested a Cheyenne man for allegedly strangling his girlfriend because she had bit his finger, the girlfriend died.  

Charles Rees Karn, 19, faces one count of aggravated assault and another of strangulation of a household member, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. But he could see an upgraded charge soon.  

The Laramie County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a Cowboy State Daily message requesting comment.  

Police arrested Karn on Thursday after a 911 call that came in about 30 minutes after midnight indicated a woman suffered a head injury from being pushed off a bed in a camper parked on Cactus Way in Cheyenne.  

Cheyenne Police Department Officer Reece Federer met with Karn on scene, according to the case affidavit. Karn was crying.  

Karn said he and his girlfriend, Phoenix Cerenil, had been dating for about a year. They were in the camper lying in bed together, and Karn got upset after Cerenil bit his finger. He pushed her off the bed, the affidavit alleges.  

Karn reportedly heard a “pop.”  

Not Looking Good 

Officer Jonathan Penhale went to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and met with Cerenil’s doctor.  

The doctor said she had a brain injury from prolonged oxygen deprivation and abrasions around her neck, the affidavit says. Her prognosis was “extremely poor.”  

The affidavit says the doctor and officer noted the following injuries: 

  • On abrasion to the left side of her neck.

  • Another to the right side.

  • A large bruise above her navel area. 

  • A small laceration on the inner right thigh and pubic area.  

A Disagreement 

Detective Allison Baca asked Karn to speak to her at the police station. Karn agreed and Federer took Karn there.  

Karn told police that he and Cerenil were together in the camper that night. During what Karn described as erotic play, Cerenil grabbed his hand and bit his left finger, the affidavit relates.  

Police noted bite marks around Karn’s finger.  

He pushed her off the bed and she must have hit her head on the table near the bed, Karn allegedly told police.  

The affidavit says Karn denied that they’d been arguing, though he said they had a “disagreement” about Karn’s impending legal troubles and their relationship.  

Karn was arrested and made at least two plea agreements with prosecutors for felony arson and property destruction from January of this year and May of last year, according to his court file.  

Wrestling, But Not Today 

Karn allegedly told police Cerenil may have bruises on her arms from when the two of them wrestled two days earlier, but that they didn’t wrestle the day of the finger-biting incident.  

Karn also was bruised and scratched. He had a scratch on the front of his left arm at the jointure of his arm and armpit, the affidavit says, as well as purplish skin discolorations on his upper left arm and a linear red mark across his right shoulder blade about 2 inches long.  

These marks were from wrestling two or three days earlier, Karn said.  

These Other People 

A detective spoke with a 51-year-old woman who said Karn called her about 21 minutes after midnight to say Cerenil was not breathing, according to the affidavit.  

The woman told Karn to call 911 and to do CPR.  

By 5:03 Thursday morning the woman texted a detective saying that Karn had told her a different story, that he strangled Cerenil after she bit him, the affidavit alleges.  

No More Plea Agreement 

Assistant District Attorney Jonah Buckley on Thursday after Karn’s arrest wrote to the Laramie County District Court, asking to withdraw a plea agreement Karn secured in his third-degree arson case May 4.  

Karn pleaded guilty to that charge May 11.  

Under the plea agreement, Karn could have gotten three years probation if the court found him eligible. Alternately, the prosecutor was prepared to recommend the youthful offender program, sometimes called “boot camp.”   

The charge stems from Jan. 15, when Karn lit a fire in the back seat of a Kia Rio at a Cheyenne car dealership, according to the affidavit. The spread to a Kia Forte as well and caused about $18,000 in damages.  

Shattered Glass And LSD 

Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s office reopened another case against him from last June, in which Karn was accused of smashing car windows with a skateboard in a parking garage.  

For the felony property destruction, Karn was scheduled to receive a deferral after completing three years of supervised probation and paying restitution.  

The affidavit in that case says Karn told police that he was high on LSD, marijuana and half of a small vodka bottle on May 15, 2022, when he and another male — whom Karn would not identify — shattered windows in multiple parked cars.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter