Wyoming’s highest court Friday dismissed a Casper man’s claims that his rape victim made up her testimony against him.
The girl told police in 2021 she lied at 2016 trial when she testified that Shawn Kenneth Hamilton, 38, sexually abused her when she was 5, but she later changed course again, saying she was having a psychotic event when she recanted her testimony.
The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld Hamilton's conviction Friday. He is serving between 50 and 56 years in prison for sexually abusing the girl when she was 5, and for later raping a 14-year-old girl. The girls reported these separate incidents in 2009 and 2015, respectively.
The girl from the 2009 incident contacted the Casper Police Department on Sept. 6, 2021, saying she had lied under oath during Hamilton’s 2016 trial and that he had not molested her, according to court documents.
Hamilton’s convictions for abusing her amount to between 18-20 years of his total sentence.
When Casper Police Department Detective Chase Nash tried to interview the young woman, who was by then about 17 or 18, in a follow-up interview later that month, she said she’d prefer to talk to her counselor instead.
The Natrona County District Attorney documented the new evidence.
Must Prove It
One year later, Hamilton filed a petition for exoneration.
Wyoming law allows convicts who discover new evidence proving their innocence to appeal for exoneration. If the person can prove by clear and convincing evidence that he did not commit the crime, the court will exonerate him.
The Natrona County District Court heard Hamilton’s argument March 10, 2023, in a hearing that lasted 45 minutes, including the judge’s 22-minute decision-making recess, court documents say.
Hamilton called the girl to testify on his behalf.
She told the court that when she recanted in 2021, she was having a psychotic event.
“I just wasn’t in my right mind,” the girl said.
She then sought treatment, her condition improved and she stood by her original testimony, say the filings in Hamilton’s case.
The judge noted that the girl gave her 2016 trial testimony under oath, subject to cross-examination, and she gave her 2023 testimony under oath as well. But she did not give her 2021 recantation under oath.
“Recantation evidence should be viewed with the utmost suspicion,” the judge said at the hearing, according to the high court’s ruling. “In this case, (her) recantation while not under oath and in the midst of a mental health crisis was unreliable compared to her trial testimony and her hearing testimony, both under oath.”
DFS Said Girl’s Claims Were Unsubstantiated
The Wyoming Supreme Court characterized the district court judge as gracious for granting a hearing at all, noting that Wyoming’s Factual Innocence Act calls for new evidence that does not rely solely on a recantation.
Hamilton had also tried to raise evidence from the Department of Family Services. DFS in 2009 found Hamilton’s first victim’s allegations to be unsubstantiated.
But that wasn’t “new” evidence allowable under the law. The court already had considered DFS’s finding ahead of Hamilton’s 2016 trial and decided not to allow it at trial because wading through DFS’s fact-finding systems would only confuse the jury.
Some Doubt Allowed
Hamilton argued in his appeal that the Natrona County District Court judge should have found his evidence “clear and convincing.”
That’s a legal standard of proof that requires less evidence than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard used to convict someone, but more evidence than the preponderance-of-evidence standard required for other proceedings.
“By its very nature, the clear and convincing evidence standard by which a post-conviction petitioner must prove a claim of factual innocence tolerates some doubt,” reads Hamilton’s appeal, urging the high court to reverse the district court’s decision.
But the Wyoming Supreme Court said the district judge did nothing wrong.
“Mr. Hamilton presents no evidence or argument showing the district court’s credibility determination was clearly erroneous and its ultimate conclusion was in error,” reads the ruling. “We see no basis to disturb the district court’s ruling.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.