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Three Wyomingites Charged With Kidnapping After Woman Found Dead Near Denver

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three Wyoming residents have been charged with kidnapping and will likely be charged with murder in connection with the death of a woman whose body was found near Denver on Friday.

Shantel Edlund, 43, and Leo VanBuskirk, 23, both of Sheridan, and Casey Childers, 39, of Casper, have been charged with first-degree kidnapping and will likely be charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of the unidentified woman, according to the Aurora, Colorado, Police Department.

Department officials did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

According to department officials, its major crimes unit was notified by the Fort Collins Police Department on Dec. 16 about a missing person its officers had been trying to find. Information collected during the investigation led Fort Collins police to believe that the missing 29-year-old woman was last seen in Aurora.

Aurora police began investigating and believed the woman might have been kidnapped in the city on Nov. 6. Suspects in the woman’s kidnapping, two men and a woman, were last seen driving a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu.

Detectives found that the Malibu was seen in Douglas County, Colorado, where Aurora sits, on Nov. 7.

Edlund, VanBuskirk and Childers were arrested by police in Sheridan, Wyoming, on Wednesday on unrelated charges.

Detectives from the Aurora Police Major Crimes Unit drove to Wyoming on Wednesday to question the three and on Thursday, warrants for their arrest on charges of first-degree kidnapping were obtained.

On Friday, investigators discovered the body of a woman in rural Douglas County in Colorado. The woman, whose identity has not been released, had been shot to death.

Edlund, VanBuskirk and Childers remain in custody at the Sheridan County Detention Center.

Police are still looking for information, which can be submitted to the Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.

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Wyoming Man Who Shot Another Over Song On Radio Sentenced To 7 Years

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Arapahoe man who shot another man over a dispute about a song on the radio has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Ronald Blaise Jenkins, 26, was sentenced on Dec. 20 on his conviction on a charge of using, carrying and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a federal crime of violence. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, five years of supervised release with special conditions and was ordered to pay $1,357 in restitution and a $100 special assessment.

“This case exemplifies why it is important to keep guns out of reach when drinking,” said U.S. Attorney Bob Murray. “Alcohol impairs judgement, and, in this case, a simple argument escalated to the point of one friend shooting another friend. I can unequivocally say, this would not have happened had the pair not been drinking. We appreciate the work of our partners at the Wind River Police Department and the Riverton Police Department who helped investigate the case.”

Jenkins was initially charged in May in U.S. District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. He pleaded guilty to the charge in October.

According to an affidavit filed by Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Michael Shockley, his investigation into the shooting of a man identified only as “W.S.” revealed that the incident stemmed from a disagreement over a song on the radio while he and Jenkins were in a truck in January 2021.

W.S. had been riding in a pickup truck with three other men, including Jenkins, drinking alcohol and listening to music on the radio.

Two of the men in the truck said W.S. and Jenkins began arguing about a song on the radio and then prepared to fight over the issue.

At that point, Jenkins shot W.S.

Jenkins told investigators W.S. had played a song on the radio he did not like and the two began arguing.

He said W.S. got out of the back seat of the pickup truck, opened the door to the seat where Jenkins was sitting and punched him in the face.

Jenkins said he had broken his neck several years earlier and the attack made him afraid for his life. He said he found a gun on the floor of the pickup truck and was pointing it at W.S. when “it just went off.”

W.S., meanwhile, told investigators he did not remember what the argument was about, but that both he and Jenkins got out of the truck and were preparing to fight when Jenkins pulled a pistol out.

The victim said he charged Jenkins in an attempt to take the pistol away from him, but was unsuccessful and Jenkins fired.

The affidavit said W.S. was helped into the emergency room at SageWest Hospital in Riverton by two men who left him there.

The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wind River Police Department,  with assistance from the Riverton Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Kerry J.  Jacobson prosecuted the case.

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Wyoming Woman Convicted In Kidnapping Eligible For Parole In 2025

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A woman who has spent more than half her life in prison for her role in the kidnapping of an elderly couple near Gillette will be eligible for parole in 2025 after having her sentence commuted by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Darla Rouse, 45, has spent 25 years in prison on a sentence of 53 years to life handed down in her conviction on four charges filed in connection with the 1996 kidnapping.

Gov. Mark Gordon in December commuted Rouse’s sentence, shaving at least 13 years off of her term and making her eligible for parole in April 2025, according to Paul Martin, deputy administrator for the Wyoming Department of Corrections.

If paroled, Martin said Rouse will remain on parole for life. 

Rouse, then 19, and her boyfriend James “Jay” Boule, fled Texas in 1996 after Boule broke out of jail.

The couple was on the lam for a few days before they ran out of money. At a rest stop just outside of Gillette, the couple kidnapped 64-year-old Jerry and 69-year-old Rose Rockne, taking their pickup truck and fifth-wheel camper and tying the couple to chairs in the back of the fifth-wheel.

After a brief stop in Buffalo, Rose Rockne was able to free her hands and hurl herself out of the camper into the street. 

Law enforcement officers pursued the fleeing couple and they were eventually arrested on Interstate 90.

Rouse was tried in Campbell County Sixth Judicial Court before Judge Dan Price II on Dec. 16, 1996 and was sentenced to four terms varying in length from five to 30 years for a total of 53 years to life.

Rouse’s appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court in 1998 to have her sentence reduced was rejected. Twice during his tenure, former Gov. Matt Mead. a former federal prosecutor, also refused to sign a request for commutation for Rouse, which is the only way that a sentence can be reduced in Wyoming.

Later, Price would regret the length of the sentence and start intervening on Rouse’s behalf. Beginning in 2007, he wrote multiple letters to the Wyoming Board of Parole in Rouse’s defense.

Over the years, the parole board has voted several times that Rouse be released from prison due to her lack of infractions while at inmate at the Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk, as well as her repeated letters of remorse to both the family and parole board.

During her 24-plus years in prison, Rouse has volunteered to conduct prison tours, worked with K-9 officers, achieved several personal fitness and exercise degrees, lead fitness classes for other inmates and attended college online. She’s had one infraction during her time in prison for using the kitchen without permission.

Gordon made the final decision on the commutation last Tuesday, issuing one for Rouse and one other person. They were among six commutations presented for the governor’s consideration and the first he has granted.

The governor’s communication Director Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily that Rouse’s commutation was approved based on a variety of factors including the fact the Rockne family no longer opposes her release, Rouse’s remorse for her crime, her disciplinary record while incarcerated and her rehabilitative programming and other work while incarcerated.

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Gordon Commutes Sentence Of Woman Convicted In 1996 Kidnapping

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A woman who has spent more than 25 years in prison for her role in the kidnapping of an elderly couple near Gillette has had her lengthy sentence commuted by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon commuted the sentence of Darla Rouse, who was sentenced to 53 years to life in connection with the 1996 kidnapping. The Department of Corrections is expected to determine during the first week of the year when Rouse might be released.

Darla Rouse’s journey to prison began when she was a dumb kid in love. At 44, she’s now spent more than half her life behind bars, serving four sentences at the Wyoming Women’s Center.

First Plan

Rouse met James “Jay” Boule in her home state of Texas when she was 19. She was a waitress and Boule sat in her section, laying on the flattery and listening to her in a way that she found addictive. He was charismatic, too, and when he asked her out, she didn’t hesitate.

He was also controlling, Rouse found. A couple of months into their relationship, he got her fired. She’d already moved in with him. He was unemployed, too, and liked having her home. 

The trouble was money, so he hatched a plan to rob his aunt and then blow up her house. He didn’t tell Rouse what was going on, but she’d driven over in the car to the aunt’s house with him and a friend. 

The plan failed, and Boule was arrested. Neither Rouse nor the friend were implicated in the botched crime. 

Boule ended up jail in Tyler, Texas, and Rouse visited him regularly. He talked to her often about escaping and he ultimately ended up breaking out by using a prison-issued blanket to shimmy across the barbed wire fence while wearing only T-shirt and underwear. 

He found a pay phone and called Rouse’s aunt to come get him. Rouse’s aunt had no idea that Boule had broken out of jail and she brought him home to Darla.

Second Plan

Rouse left with Boule and the couple were on the lam for a few days before they ran out of money. Seven miles west of Gillette, Boule drove into a rest stop on fumes before hatching yet another plan. 

This one involved holding up Jerry and Rose Rockne and taking their pickup truck and fifth-wheel camper. Boule asked Rouse, armed with his revolver, to watch 64-year-old Jerry and 69-year-old wife Rose while he cuffed them, tied them to chairs and checked out their pickup.

The couple, still holding Jerry and Rose Rockne, fled toward Montana, stopping once for a quick 15-minute meal at a Pizza Hut as Jay was hungry. The elderly couple remained in the camper, but at some point, Rose was able to free her hands and hurled herself through the door, still handcuffed, onto the pavement of the truck route through Buffalo. 

Rose alerted authorities and a car chase ensued until Rouse and Boule were eventually nabbed on Interstate 90.

Boyfriend Turned On Her

Rouse’s trial on Dec. 16, 1996, in Campbell County Sixth Judicial Court before Judge Dan Price II did not go according to plan. 

Not only did Boule turn on her, saying she came up with the kidnapping idea, but Rouse’s court-appointed attorney got sick in the middle of the trial and had to be hospitalized, leaving a new attorney to jump in. 

Meanwhile, Judge Price had no patience for the then-19-year-old woman’s excuses, ultimately sentencing her to four terms varying in length from five to 30 years for a total of 53 years to life.

Later, Price would regret the length of the sentence and start intervening on Rouse’s behalf. 

Judge Has Change of Heart

Rouse appealed her sentence in 1998 to the Wyoming Supreme Court, but it was rejected.

Beginning in 2007, Price wrote multiple letters to the Wyoming Board of Parole in Rouse’s defense.

At the same time, the Rockne family consistently urged the board to keep Rouse in prison, citing the lasting impact the kidnapping had on Jerry and Rose.

Over the years, the parole board has voted that Rouse be released from prison because of her lack of a lack of infractions while an inmate and the fact that, by all accounts, she had been a model prisoner who showed great remorse in her repeated letters to both the family and the parole board. 

Gov Mead Would Not Commute

In Wyoming, the only way a sentence can be reversed is by a commutation from the governor. Twice during his tenure, former Gov. Matt Mead. a former federal prosecutor, refused to sign a request for commutation for Rouse. Mead acknowledged that Rouse seemed to be making good progress in prison, including surrounding herself with a solid support group of friends and family.

That support network included Shawnee ranchers and advocates Cheri and Charlie Reese, as well as Lyn and Russ Underdahl of Minnesota, who met Rouse during a prison tour and instantly felt attached to her. 



Ultimately, Mead’s denial hinged on the Rockne family’s requests that Rouse remain in prison.

Through it all, both the Reeses and Underdahls have stood steadfastly by Rouse’s side and consider her a member of their families. They see her during constant visits, talk during frequent phone calls and make holiday trips to see her. They have also hired lawyers to fight on her behalf. Last year, when Charlie passed away, he referred to Rouse as a “beloved daughter” in his obituary.

Both families vehemently believe that Darla made a terrible mistake in the past, but has since paid for her crime and deserves a second chance at life outside prison. 

Family Became Supportive

In addition, the Rockne family no longer opposes Rouse’s release. 

Gordon made the final decision on Tuesday, issuing a commutation for Rouse and one other person. They were among six commutations presented for the governor’s consideration and the first he has granted.

The governor’s Communication Director Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily that Rouse’s commutation was approved based on a variety of factors including the fact the Rockne family no longer opposes her release, Rouse’s remorse for her crime, her disciplinary record while incarcerated and her rehabilitative programming and other work while incarcerated.

During her 25-plus years in prison, Rouse has volunteered to conduct prison tours, worked with K-9 officers, achieved several personal fitness and exercise degrees, lead fitness classes for other inmates and attended college online. She’s had one infraction in her years at the Women’s Center for using the kitchen without permission.

Release Date

Rouse’s release date and how many years will be shaved off her sentence will be up to the state Board of Parole and the Wyoming Department of Corrections, which just received notification of the commutation from the governor’s office. 

According to Paul Martin, deputy administrator for the Department of Corrections, Rouse’s new sentence computation will be determined during the first week of January. Without the commutation, Rouse would have served at least another 13 years. 

For her part, Rouse is contemplating the little things she dreams of doing on her release. Running to the store to pick up a gallon of milk, taking a walk at night, eating off of real dishes, attending church, enjoying dinner with friends and family, picking her own clothes, hearing a telephone ring or just sitting on a porch by herself, watching everyday life go by.

No Clue of Modern World

What she knows of the outside world outweighs her experience in it. Smart phones and other technological advances have whizzed past her like most other milestones. Motherhood. College graduation. Holding her dad’s hand in his waning days of cancer.

Rouse delivered news of the governor’s commutation Tuesday evening during a phone call with Lyn Underdahl. 

“She quietly said ‘he signed it,’ and then was quiet again,” Lyn said by email Wednesday. 

Lyn hadn’t heard her and asked her to repeat herself. Then the news sunk in and both women began screaming at once.

“She giggled, and we both kind of lost it together,” Lyn said, summarizing their shock and emotion with a simple statement. “God is good.”

Darla Rouse (right) with Cheri Reese.

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Riverton Man Who Assaulted Children For 25 Years Sentenced To 71 Years In Prison

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Riverton man has been sentenced to 71 years in prison for sexually abusing children on the Wind River Indian Reservation over a period of 25 years.

Dalco Gabriel Whiteman, 54, will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, given the sentence handed down Monday, said U.S. Attorney Bob Murray.

“Whiteman essentially received a life sentence and he can no longer harm another child on the reservation,” Murray said.

Whiteman was found guilty in September by a U.S. District Court jury on two counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of abusive sexual contact. The charges alleged he sexually abused multiple children to the Wind River Indian Reservation over a 25-year period.

The victims testified that Whiteman had sexually assaulted them over the years, some of them on numerous occasions.

“Every little girl and young women deserve a home and community where she feels safe and secure,” Murray said. “Not a place of fear and abuse. Stopping sexual predators like Dalco Whiteman is why our team of prosecutors work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners.”

Whiteman was arrested as the result of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The lengthy sentence of Dalco Whiteman hopefully brings a sense of justice to his victims, who suffered from decades of abuse,” said Michael Schneider, the FBI’s Denver Division special agent in charge.

After serving his sentence, Whiteman will have to complete 15 years of supervised release.

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Two Fires Break Out in Natrona County; One Person Dead, Two Jailed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two separate fires in Natrona County left one person dead, one person jailed for strangulation and one person jailed for arson.

According to the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, officers responded to a structure fire in Evansville, and the body of an adult man was found inside.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Taylor Courtney told Cowboy State Daily that the cause of the man’s death and whether he was dead before the fire was started were still under investigation as of Wednesday morning.

The fire is being investigated by the sheriff’s office and the Natrona County Fire District.

The man’s identity had not been released Wednesday morning pending notification of next of kin.

In Casper, officers responded to a disturbance Tuesday morning at a home that was destroyed by fire later in the morning.

According to police reports, police responded at about 7:30 a.m. to a report that suggested there had been a physical altercation between a man and a woman inside the home.

Officers had reason to believe the woman was injured and unable to leave the home. They also believed that the dispute might have been a hostage situation with one person not being allowed to leave. Officers were also alerted to the possibility of firearms in the house.

When officers responded to the residence, no one answered a knock at the door, so police set up a perimeter in the area.

They spotted the victim, who appeared to have injuries, through a broken window, through which they removed her from the home. The victim was taken to the Wyoming Medical Center.

Police were unsure if the man remained inside the home, so they took various precautions in the area to keep nearby residents and themselves safe. Ultimately, officers made their way into the home and found no one inside.

But early Tuesday afternoon, Casper dispatchers received a report of a fire at the same home. Callers reported seeing a woman leave the house moments before the fire began.

Casper police and the Casper Fire Department responded and extinguished the blaze, but declared the residence a total loss.

There was no one inside the home during the fire.

After investigation, it was determined that the fire had been intentionally set.

Officers found both individuals involved in the morning dispute and took them to the Casper Police Department for interviews.

After further investigation, the woman, Judith Cable, 44, of Casper, was arrested on one count of felony arson. The man, Nathan Bristow, 32, of Casper, was arrested for one count of felony strangulation of a household member and one count of misdemeanor domestic battery.

The incident is still being investigated.

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Powell Woman Charged With Two DUIs In Three Days

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune 

A woman who recently moved to the area is facing multiple charges after she allegedly drove under the influence of a controlled substance two different times last week.

Prosecutors say Lauren A. Davis knocked down a light pole in Cody around midday on Monday, Dec. 13, before causing a head-on crash in Powell that evening. Then, while police continued to investigate the circumstances of the collision, Davis is alleged to have driven impaired on Thursday morning in Cody, where she was arrested.

The Park County Attorney’s Office has charged Davis with a felony count of aggravated assault and a misdemeanor count of driving while under the influence in connection with the Dec. 13 crash in Powell, a felony DUI charge for her driving on Thursday, plus a misdemeanor count of failing to report the collision with the light pole.

During her initial court appearance Friday morning, Circuit Court Judge Joey Darrah set Davis’ bail at $50,000. Davis remained in the Park County Detention Center on Monday.

“The charges that have been alleged against you are very serious, and you could have killed someone, if they [the allegations] turn out to be true,” Darrah told the defendant.

The 31-year-old — who should not be confused with the Northwest College coach of the same name — recently moved to Park County from Missouri, police say, where she had two DUI arrests in the past nine years. Deputy County Attorney Jack Hatfield said that included a case from September, in which Davis was alleged to have driven impaired with a child in the car. In arguing for a high cash bond, Hatfield said that Davis poses a “severe public safety hazard” given her “unwillingness to stop driving under the influence of controlled substances.”

For her part, a tearful Davis told the judge that both of her prior DUI charges had been dismissed. 

“I feel like that should be taken into consideration,” she said in asking for a lower bond.

“$50,000 is, I mean, I have kids,” Davis said amid sobs. “I don’t have anybody to take care of them.”

However, Hatfield said it was his understanding that Davis’ children were in the care of a local family member, and Judge Darrah noted the seriousness of the allegations.

“Think about this: If you would have been killed or paralyzed, you probably wouldn’t be able to take care of your own children,” Darrah said. He told Davis it was lucky no one was seriously injured.

It was around midday on Monday, Dec. 13, that someone reported a dark Ford Explorer SUV with Missouri license plates had crashed into and knocked down a light pole at the intersection of Cody’s 9th Street and Canyon Avenue. The driver left the scene, but a witness snapped a picture of the SUV’s license plate. Cody police had to do some legwork to determine that Davis owned the vehicle, and by that time, she’d already crashed in Powell.

A short time before the collision, around 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 13, Powell police received a report that Davis’ eastbound Explorer was driving erratically on U.S. Highway 14-A/Coulter Avenue. Powell Police Officer David Salters parked at the former Shopko to wait for the SUV, but he soon heard a crash near Yellowstone Motors.

The Cody couple in the Chevy Suburban hit by Davis later told police that “they were driving westbound on Coulter when all of a sudden they saw the headlights from Davis’ vehicle coming at them,” Salters recounted in an affidavit included in court records. The man and woman reported soreness days after the crash, the affidavit says, with the woman having “significant bruising on her chest and stomach.”

Davis had to be freed from her vehicle because of the damage from the collision — which scattered debris across and temporarily shut down the highway — and she was taken by ambulance to Powell Valley Hospital for treatment.

Inside Davis’ vehicle, Salters found bottles for a pair of anti-seizure medications (gabapentin and Klonopin), plus several strips of suboxone, a narcotic drug that can be used to treat an opioid addiction.

“Observing the opened suboxone strip, it appeared as if Davis had consumed this prior to or while driving the vehicle,” Salters wrote. According to charging documents, Davis later told another officer that “she had only taken the prescribed amounts and was not abusing the medication” in the vehicle.

Due to her hospitalization, police were unable to perform standard field sobriety tests following the crash, but Salters said he obtained a warrant for a sample of Davis’ blood, which will be tested for controlled substances.

With test results still pending, Davis went free after being released from the hospital. But around 8 a.m. Thursday, Cody police received a report of a possible impaired driver heading into the city on Big Horn Avenue. The white Ford pickup was reported to be driving all over the road. Officers found the truck illegally parked outside a Stampede Avenue day care where Davis had recently begun working and she reportedly confirmed she was the truck’s driver.

Davis told officers she was diabetic and might be suffering from low blood sugar, charging documents state, but medical personnel described her blood sugar as “perfect.” Davis also attributed her poor driving to her looking at a GPS device, but Cody Officer Seth Horn found that explanation unlikely.

Horn suspected the driver was impaired, writing in an affidavit that Davis’ speech was slow and slurred, her movements slow and uncoordinated and her expressions very flat. Around 8:40 a.m., Powell Police Officer and drug recognition expert Matt Koritnik arrived to evaluate Davis. He concluded that she was under the influence of suboxone and “too impaired to safely operate a motor vehicle,” according to Horn’s affidavit. Davis nearly passed out before being booked into jail, Horn wrote, and another blood sample was collected for testing.

In the meantime, Park County prosecutors have taken an aggressive approach to the case. Court records and statements from Hatfield indicate that authorities have only confirmed one prior DUI conviction for Davis, with police officers in both Powell and Cody recommending she be charged with a second offense in 10 years. However, Hatfield charged last week’s alleged DUIs as Davis’ third (misdemeanor) and fourth (felony) offenses in a decade.

Hatfield also filed a charge of aggravated assault and battery, alleging that Davis “knowingly” caused bodily injury to the occupants of the other vehicle in the Dec. 13 crash while using a deadly weapon (her Ford Explorer).

All told, the charges carry a theoretical maximum sentence of more than 17 years in prison.

A preliminary hearing to weigh the evidence and charges against Davis is tentatively set for Thursday.

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Casper Man Charged With Possessing, Producing Child Porn With Daughter

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper man charged this month with possessing and producing child pornography with his toddler daughter faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Daniel Hendricks, 33, was indicted this month by a federal grand jury on one count of possession of child pornography and four counts of production of child pornography. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

If convicted on all counts, Hendricks could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison and five years to life of supervised release. He could also be ordered to pay a $5,000 special assessment pursuant to the Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2015 and a $100 special assessment on each count.

In addition, he could pay up to a $50,000 special assessment and mandatory restitution of not less than $3,000 per requesting victim pursuant to the Amy, Vicky and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018.

A trial has been set for Jan. 31.

According to a probable cause affidavit, in October, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents received a tip regarding Hendricks, who was reported to Facebook for possessing and distributing child pornography. The files in question contained pornographic videos.

With the cybertip, the IP address involved in sending the child pornography was checked and was found to be in the Casper area.

One of the agents checked the Casper Law Enforcement Computer Aided Dispatch System and found a report that had been made in June by Hendricks’ wife, who told an officer at the time that her husband had made inappropriate online comments about a photo of a fully clothed girl.

Hendricks’ wife took screenshots of the comments her husband had made about the girl with another man on Facebook and said she believed Hendricks was engaging in pedophilia-type behavior and that he was a sick person for being attracted to children.

The officer told Hendricks’ wife at the time that while no law had been violated, her husband’s comments were gross and inappropriate and that he would keep the screenshots for evidence.

In October, Hendricks’ wife was interviewed by DCI agents, who confirmed she was separated from her husband. They have three children together, ranging in age from 14 months to nine years.

She told the agents that she had been previously sent a message on Facebook from an unknown person who told her that Hendricks was involved in a pedophile group online and engaged in conversations expressing a sexual interest in children.

While Hendricks’ wife had previously confronted him about this, he was apologetic, but added he was more interested in the “forbiddeness” of the conversations about children. She was also aware his Facebook account had been shut down on two separate occasions.

The same day in October, a search warrant was issued for Hendricks’ home in Casper. Upon arriving, Hendricks’ roommate answered the door, and Hendricks was in a locked bedroom.

After further announcements, he unlocked the door. Agents could see an AR-15 rifle in plain sight of his bedroom, so they placed Hendricks in handcuffs and took him to the DCI’s Casper office.

Hendricks admitted to viewing child pornography for about nine months to a year and although he said he was disgusted with himself, he continued due to depression, boredom in his sex life and his recent separation from his wife.

He said his preferred age of sexual interest was girls between 8 and 13. He admitted to receiving, sending and witnessing numerous files of child pornography, including one involving infants, on the Telegram messaging app.

However, Hendricks was adamant tha the never produced child pornography or sexually assaultedd any of his children or others.

Since one of the files Hendricks had sent on Facebook involved a toddler, agents questioned him about whether he had assaulted his own children and produced child pornography.

Hendricks ultimately admitted to producing child pornography with his youngest daughter, who was 14 months old at the time, during a diaper change, taking both photos and video of the abuse. Hendricks shared the files with an unknown person on Telegram in hopes for receiving similar files.

Hendricks also wrote a letter of apology to his wife, confessing to viewing and trading child pornography with others online and admitting to the abuse of their daughter. He apologized for his actions and said he wished he could take it back.

A search was also conducted of Hendricks’ cell phone, and more than 10 files of child pornography were found on it. The Telegram app was also found on his phone, and it contained numerous chats between Hendricks and other users exchanging child pornography.

The crime is being investigated by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and Homeland Security Investigations.

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Fourth Man Charged With Murder In Riverton Double Homicide

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A fourth person has been charged with murder in connection with the 2019 shooting of two Riverton residents.

Brandon Donald Monroe, 19, was charged with two counts of felony murder and two counts of first-degree murder and appeared in court on Friday, where his bail was set for $2 million.

The bodies of Jocelyn Watt, a member of the Northern Arapahoe tribe, and Rudy Perez were found in their Riverton home in January 2019. Since her murder, Watt’s family has actively promoted the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement.

According to court documents, a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent interviewed Patrick SunRhodes, 17, who is also charged in connection with the murder, earlier this month.

During the interview, SunRhodes told the agent that late in the evening of Jan. 3, 2019, he was at his home in Fremont County when he was contacted by Korbin Headley, 18, who asked if SunRhodes wanted to get some alcohol.

SunRhodes met with Headley and Bryce Teran, 24, and the trio went to a home on the Wind River Indian Reservation. There, they met with Monroe and the four got into a vehicle and drank together.

Monroe went back into the house and came out with methamphetamine and a firearm, the report on the interview said. He used the drug and then put on a pair of gloves and told the others that he needed to “go take care of business,” SunRhodes told the agent.

The four drove to a residence near City Park in Riverton. On the way, Monroe said he had bleached the bullets that he was loading into of the firearm so he wouldn’t leave fingerprints, SunRhodes told the agent.

SunRhodes asked if he could go home, but was not allowed to do so.

Once the four got to the home, they parked in a nearby alley and Monroe told SunRhodes to accompany him into the home. SunRhodes told the agent Monroe hit the home’s back door with his shoulder it several times until it broke open.

SunRhodes followed Monroe into the kitchen/living room area, where he stayed. Monroe went into another room of the house, and SunRhodes said he heard gunshots coming from the room.

SunRhodes walked into the room Monroe entered and saw a woman lying face down on the floor next to the bed and Monroe struggling with another man.

SunRhodes said he saw Monroe shoot the man in the head and then pick up a shotgun from the closet floor. SunRhodes fled from the house and got into the vehicle and Monroe did the same several minutes later.

Sometime later in 2019, Headley told SunRhodes that Monroe and another person would take the blame for the shooting, SunRhodes said.

The firearm described by SunRhodes is the same caliber as the one used in the shooting of Watt and Perez.

Teran and SunRhodes have each been charged with two counts of felony murder, while Headley has been charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.

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Riverton Man Gets Almost 6 Years For Sexually Abusing Girl

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Riverton man will spend more than five years in prison for sexually abusing a young girl over a five-year period.

Annin Damian Soldierwolf, 52, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison, 10 years of supervised released and ordered to pay a fine of $500 and a $100 special assessment for abusive sexual contact on his conviction on a charge of abusive sexual contact.

The sentencing hearing was held on Dec. 7.

Soldierwolf was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 22 on a single count of abusive sexual contact. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charge, but changed his plea to guilty in September.

If he had been found guilty in a trial, Soldierwolf could have faced life in prison for the abuse.

According to court documents, the victim emailed a counselor in January and detailed the abuse that Soldierwolf had committed against her over a five-year period. She noted that she told someone about the abuse previously, but they did not believe her.

During the time of the abuse, the victim had not yet reached the age of 12.

The victim was interviewed by an FBI agent in February and again detailed the abuse Soldierwolf inflicted on her, such as touching her breasts and below the waist when no one was around.

In May, Soldierwolf went to the FBI office in Lander and said he was ready to turn himself in and wanted to take responsibility for his actions. He also said he apologized to the victim for touching her inappropriately and that he knew he did something wrong.

He also told the FBI that he did not recall some occasions of abusive, due to being drunk.

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Lander Man Pleads Guilty To Producing Child Porn, Faces 40 Years

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Lander man faces up to 40 years in prison and $500,000 in fines for allegedly traveling to Florida with the intent of having sex with a child and for producing child pornography.

Garrett Thomas Findlay, 24, pleaded guilty on Nov. 29 to one count of traveling with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and four counts of production of child pornography.

Findlay was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 20 and his sentencing has been set for Feb. 17.

According to the court documents, in October, a tip was submitted to the CyberTip Report — a service that collects tips about possible crimes against children — about a user on the social messaging app Kik who shared 14 files of suspected child pornography with another user or group of users sometime between Aug. 26 and Aug. 28, 2020. All of the files depicted prepubescent girls being made to participate in sexually explicit activity.

Kik supplied law enforcement with information about the user’s account, including IP addresses and the fact the person was using a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus cellphone to access the account through the Verizon network.

Law enforcement officers contacted Verizon, which provided a phone number for that particular phone that was Findlay’s number. The company also confirmed Findlay had that same type of phone as that identified by Kik.

Officials tracked one of the IP addresses to a residence in Laramie. There, they spoke with the property owner, who rented an apartment to Findlay from July to mid-December. In mid-December, Findlay moved back into his parents’ home in Lander.

Another IP address connected to the Kik account was found to be at Findlay’s mother’s home in Lander.

Police executed a search warrant for the home in early March, where they obtained Findlay’s cellphone and detained the man. He was transported to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, where he made several admissions to possessing child pornography on his phone, using Kik to send and receive child pornography and ultimately admitting the account under investigation was his.

When accessing his phone, investigators found 22 images and 10 videos of child pornography. Findlay told officers the last time he had viewed the material was the previous night, when he’d received “some” images via the social media app Whisper.

He told agents he’d used Whisper numerous times to send and receive child pornography.

It was found that on or around March 1, Findlay used Whisper to send 18 images of child pornography to another user on the app.

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Federal Suspect Apprehended By K9 Following Pursuit, Foot Chase In Gillette

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Montana man with a federal warrant was arrested Friday after he reportedly led law enforcement on a short pursuit and attempted to break into a home to hide, Campbell County Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said.

The suspect, 37-year-old Johnathan Queen from Miles City, Montana, reportedly fled from a high-risk traffic stop on a gray 2006 Nissan Altima north of the Haight Road on Highway 59 around 3 p.m. Dec. 10, Reynolds said.

Queen, a passenger in the vehicle, reportedly waited until Campbell County sheriff’s deputies had ordered the driver, a 35-year-old male, outside the car before he jumped into the driver’s seat and sped away north towards Gillette, leaving the 35-year-old with deputies.

As he fled, Queen reportedly drove multiple times into the opposite lane of travel, but Gillette Police Department officers were able to close off southbound Highway 59 while deputies spiked the vehicle twice, causing its tires to disintegrate.

The vehicle exited the roadway near Roberto’s Café before coming to a stop, after which Queen fled on foot while being pursued by GPD officers and CCSO deputies, per Reynolds, who added that the suspect attempted to break into a home to hide.

Unable to access the home, Queen continued to flee on foot before being stopped by a GPD K9 and was taken into custody following a brief struggle, Reynolds said.

Queen was promptly transported to the emergency room for a dog bite to his arm. Deputies charged him with eluding, interference, reckless endangering, reckless driving, and criminal entry, per Reynolds.

No action has been taken regarding the 35-year-old male driver of the Altima.

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Three Charged In Connection With Riverton Murder, One More Suspect To Be Arrested

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Fremont County men have been charged with murder in connection with the 2019 shooting death of two Riverton residents and a third man faces a lesser charge in the incident.

In addition, a fourth person is to be charged in connection with the shooting deaths of Jocelyn Watt and Rudy Perez, according to Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun.

LeBrun told Cowboy State Daily that Bryce Teran and Patrick Sunrhodes Jr. have each been charged with two counts of felony murder, while Korbin Headley has been charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.

He added the fourth person, also a Fremont County resident, is scheduled to be charged.

LeBrun declined to comment further on the case.

The bodies of Watt, a member of the Northern Arapahoe tribe, and Perez were found in their Riverton home in January 2019. Following her murder, Watt’s family heavily promoted the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement.

Watt’s sister, Jade Wagon, was also murdered last year, in an unconnected case.

The Watt and Perez murders have been investigated by the Riverton Police Department, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the FBI.

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Cheyenne Man Busted In Colorado Sex Sting

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne man was one of four arrested earlier this month in Colorado in a sting operation targeting adults who were attempting to have sex with children.

Joshua McCathern, 39, was charged with patronizing a prostituted child, internet luring of a child and attempted sexual assault on a child.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, Homeland Security and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation conducted a joint sting operation in two different locations in the county (which includes Fort Collins and Loveland) from Dec. 1 to Dec. 3. The operation targeted people who were actively seeking to have sexual contact with underage children.

“LCSO would like to express our gratitude to all the agencies and investigators that helped make this operation a success,” the sheriff’s office said last week. “Operations like these are necessary to help ensure the children of our community are protected from dangerous predators.”

In addition to McCathern, two Fort Collins residents and one Kentucky man were arrested.

Amarnath Arikapudi, 30, of Fort Collins was charged with two counts of internet luring of a child with intent for sexual contact or exploitation, two counts of attempted sexual assault on a child, two counts of criminal attempt to commit a class four felony and two counts of patronizing a prostituted child. He posted a $50,000 bond on Dec. 3.

Satyander Dudee, 53, of Versailles, Kentucky was charged with internet luring of a child with intent for sexual contact or exploitation, attempted sexual assault on a child, criminal attempt to commit a class four felony, enticement of a child and patronizing a prostituted child. He posted a $50,000 bond on Dec. 4.

Jeffrey Beaman, 51, of Fort Collins was charged with attempted sexual assault on a child, internet luring of a child and patronizing a prostituted child.

The sheriff’s office is not releasing further information about the sting operation so as not to jeopardize future ones.

All of the men are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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Woman Leads Police On Chase Through Pinedale, Crashes Into Boulder

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Pinedale woman was arrested Wednesday after leading police on a car chase through Pinedale and crashing into a sheriff’s car before driving into a boulder.

Mariah Edwards, 28, was arrested and booked into the Sublette County Detention Center on Wednesday for allegedly driving while under the influence, reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, assault on a peace officer, eluding and not wearing a seatbelt.

Sublette County Sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Bingham told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that officers are investigating the possibility that Edwards was under the influence of drugs when she started to flee from officers.

He added that such behavior behind the wheel is generally a bad idea.

“Wyoming, in general, has a higher DUI rate and they’re not a good idea,” Bingham said. “Running from the police puts everyone more at risk and makes things worse in the end.”

No one was injured in the chase.

According to the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sublette County dispatchers received a medical call about a person slumped over the steering wheel of a vehicle in the parking log of Pinedale’s Best Western Hotel. The reporting party stated that the driver had struck his vehicle.

Sublette County Sheriff’s officers responded to the hotel and when they approached the vehicle, they found a woman behind the wheel. She refused to exit the vehicle or speak with officers.

She then shifted the vehicle into reverse and backed into a tree before driving out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed.

Deputies pursued her through Pinedale. Another deputy was already at the southern end of town and coordinated with fellow deputies to perform a vehicle block.

As the pursuit neared the intersection of Sublette Avenue and Pine Street, the driver accelerated toward the road block and struck the rear driver’s side of the K9 patrol vehicle.

After hitting the vehicle, the car continued moving before crashing into a boulder and coming to rest in a grocery store parking lot.

Edwards, the deputy and the K9 were all taken for medical evaluation at the Pinedale Medical Clinic and released without major injury.

Bingham said he and the rest of the officers were grateful no one, especially their deputy or K9, was injured in the chase.

“We’re glad the impact didn’t happen on the K9 or deputy’s door, but in the back instead,” he said.

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Community Rallies After Thieves Steal Christmas Trees From Powell Boy Scouts

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Grinch-inspired heist almost ruined Christmas for a Powell Boy Scout troop. 

But the day was saved by generous Powell residents with remarkable imaginations.

On Sunday morning, Scoutmaster Donny Peterson realized something was amiss at the American Legion, where the troop was selling Christmas trees as part of its annual fundraising campaign.

“We noticed a couple of things about the lot, like the bulbs had been pulled out of the strand of lights that we have running up there,” he said.  “All of the tall trees were knocked over, and there was a lot of room in the short section. And so the scouts and myself all took turns and counted like, five times, and each time we came up exactly 20 (trees) short.”

At $55 per tree, that was a loss of $1,100 – quite a hit for the nonprofit organization, which was counting on that money to send Scouts to leadership training and to re-charter the group.

Police Chief Roy Eckerdt told Cowboy State Daily that Christmas tree theft is rare in Powell.

“In my tenure here, this is the first time we’ve had a scenario like this,” he said. “The holiday season always sees an increase in property crime and thefts. Yes, we’re in Wyoming, and we’re a wonderful place, but most of our crimes are crimes of opportunity.”

It didn’t take long before word of the thefts got out on social media and the people of Powell began making trips to the lot to buy trees that, well, didn’t exactly exist.

“Two people made Facebook posts,” Peterson said. “Just, you know, ‘If you see something, say something.’ And our wonderful community had turned it into, ‘Let’s help these guys.’ Pretty shortly after the policeman left and we’re figuring out how we’re going to recoup the losses, people started showing up and wanting to buy ‘invisible trees.’”

As of Wednesday evening, Peterson said, donations from the community had more than made up for the lost trees.

“People still show up where I work and still give me checks,” Peterson said. “Even tonight, we haven’t added up what we’ve gotten tonight yet, but people are still buying invisible trees.”

Over $2,000 had been donated as of Wednesday evening, according to Peterson, which is a big boost to the organization that currently boasts 14 scouts taking advantage of the program to learn about leadership and citizenship skills, self-confidence and ethics, according to the troop’s charter.

Chief Eckerdt said the outpouring of support from local residents is typical for Park County.

“Park County, Wyoming, as a whole has always come together for people when they’re in need,” he said, “even at a time when there’s a lot of need, stress and strain and emotion in our communities with everything else we have going on. So it’s a sense of pride in our community when you see them step up and help out somebody like the Boy Scouts, to come through for them. That’s a humbling sight to see.”

Eckerdt added that the department is continuing to investigate the thefts.

“We are seeking information at this at this point,” he said. “We know the last time that (the trees) were accounted for was 7 p.m. Saturday night, so it happened between 7 p.m. Saturday night at 11 a.m. Sunday morning. That’s the timeframe, if anybody may have information to assist the investigation.”

For Peterson and the Boy Scouts, the dark cloud that descended on Sunday has turned out to have a remarkably shiny silver lining.

“The dark cloud is gone,” he said. “You know, we just feel bad for the people that took the trees. It was a bad thing. But our community has brought us all together.”

And they still have a few trees to sell.

Anyone with information can call the department at 307-754-2212, call the crime tips line at 307-764-8477 or email crimetips@cityofpowell.com.

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Cheyenne Felon Faces 40 Years In Prison, $1M Fine For Possessing Gun, Ammo

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne man faces up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine on allegations he was felon in possession of a firearm and other alleged violations of firearm laws.

Anthony Pierce Unocic, 52, was indicted by a federal grand jury in November on charges that resulted from an investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

According to court records filed with U.S. District Court, Unocic was indicted for being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition and for possession of a firearm not registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Unocic appeared before a federal judge on Nov. 22 and pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial has been set for Jan. 24.

According to court documents, a Homeland Security agent was notified by the U.S. Customs and Border Facility of an intercepted shipment bound for Cheyenne from China that was found to contain a suspected firearm suppressor.

The package was intended for “Tony Piece,” and the Homeland Security agent directed that the shipment be forwarded to him. The agent also looked into the buyer’s phone number and found that it belonged to Unocic.

The agent also found that the actual resident and owner of the home the package was sent to was a convicted felon and sex offender.

On Oct. 15, the agent observed three vehicles, one of which was registered to Unocic, at the Cheyenne home where the package was to be delivered. Three men, including Unocic, were determined to be living at the address and were all employed at the Veterans Affairs Medical Hospital.

Unocic was not allowed to own a firearm due to a 2017 felony conviction for possession of explosive/incendiary parts, for which he served three years in prison in Colorado, according to court documents.

On Nov. 2, the suspected suppressor was delivered to the Cheyenne home, the mail carrier asked for “Tony Pierce,” and a man matching Unocic’s description identified himself as Pierce. Later in the day, Unocic was observed leaving the home and driving to the VA.

Law enforcement officials spoke with Unocic at the VA and questioned him about the suspected suppressor. Initially, he denied buying it, but admitted to its purchase. However, he said the device was not a suppressor but a “solvent trap.”

Unocic also claimed he did not own any firearms and that there was nothing illegal in his vehicle or at his home.

A search warrant was executed at the home and law enforcement found a firearm, ammunition, a suppressor and suspected narcotics (including heroin and crack cocaine) in one bedroom, which contained many of Unocic’s items, including his Social Security card.

One roommate identified the bedroom as Unocic’s and while he had not seen Unocic have a firearm, he suspected the man of using methamphetamine and heroin.

The firearm, ammunition and suppressor had all been manufactured outside of the United States.

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Manlove Appeals To Supreme Court On Incompetency Charges

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An order limiting the efforts of Laramie County’s district attorney to defend herself against allegations of incompetence is a violation of her rights to due process of law, she said in a motion filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Leigh Anne Manlove is asking justices to review the latest order issued by the group that oversees the behavior of attorneys, saying it unconstitutionally restricts her ability to mount a defense.

Manlove, in the motion filed Nov. 23, said it is important she be given a thorough opportunity to defend herself because the case marks the first time the state’s Office of Bar Counsel, an agency of the Wyoming Bar, has tried to remove an elected official from office.

“This is a crucially important case and one of first impression on the state …” the filing said. “In this case, the Office of Bar Counsel … seeks to remove Manlove from her duly elected office as the Laramie County District Attorney before the end of her term, using the lawyer disciplinary proceeding process as the vehicle, and based upon various allegations of lawyer misconduct — allegations that criticize Manlove’s office management, case management, prosecutorial discretion, and response to the novel and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”

Manlove faces a charge from the Office of Bar Counsel before the Board of Professional Responsibility. The board hears and reviews complaints against attorneys and then recommends disciplinary action, up to disbarment, to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The formal charge before the BPR accuses Manlove of failing to competently fulfill the duties of the office she was elected to in November 2018. The allegations include one that Manlove exaggerated budget pressures faced by her office to dismiss almost 1,000 cases in Laramie County and another that she improperly blamed police for errors that led to the release of two men accused of violent crimes.

The complaint is based in part on a letter signed by all seven of Laramie County’s judges in December 2020 expressing concerns about Manlove’s performance in office.

A hearing before the PRB is scheduled to begin Feb. 2. Manlove asked for a delay in the hearing and for more time to collect evidence in support of her case, a process known as “discovery.”

While Christopher Hawks, chair of the hearing panel for the BPR, declined to postpone the hearing, he did give Manlove until Jan. 5 to complete the discovery process.

However, he also imposed limits on the people Manlove could interview, the scope of the documents she could subpoena and the length of time she could spend in interviews with the seven judges.

Manlove is asking the Supreme Court to settle the question of whether such limits violate her rights to due process.

“(The) order denies Manlove her right to engage in relevant discovery relative to the allegations made against her and in support of her defenses; it deprives her of a meaningful opportunity to face her accusers and question them regarding the allegations made by them against her; it prohibits her from gaining access to relevant records, information and documentation to which she is entitled …” the filing said. “If Manlove cannot access the communications, information and documentation she seeks through her (subpoenas) directed to the seven Laramie County judges and others, she cannot properly prepare for trial in that she will have been deprived the opportunity to assess and evaluate relevant evidence to rebut the claims made against her and/or in support of her defenses.”

In addition, Manlove needs to be given an opportunity to protect her license to practice law, it said.

“Given the fact that the (state Bar counsel) seeks Manlove’s license to practice law (a constitutionally protected property right) either through suspension of her law license or through disbarment, and to remove her from elected office before her term in office expires, an immediate … review of the … order is necessary for an evaluation of whether Manlove’s due process and other constitutionally protected rights under the Wyoming Constitution … and … the United States Constitution, have been violated and whether the BPR Chairman has abused its discretion,” it said.

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Cheyenne Police & Watchful Citizens Thwart Puppy Thieves

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Take that, bad guys!

The Cheyenne Police Department on Tuesday announced its officers thwarted puppy thieves this weekend when an alert resident let them know that dogs were being sold out of a vehicle in a parking lot of a local business.

While such activity is not illegal, it is suspicious behavior. And since there were reports of puppies being stolen from a northern Colorado home filed already, officers were dispatched to the area.

When law enforcement arrived at the scene, the vehicle believed to be involved — a black Dodge truck — was gone. 

But good fortune was shining on the puppies as another officer spotted the vehicle in a different location and pulled the driver over.

The dogs matched the description of the stolen puppies and they were safely returned to their owner.

Residents are crediting witness Desiray Serrano, another Cheyenne local, for alerting the police.

“She was the one who caught it and called the police,” Sabine Livingston wrote on the Cheyenne Police Department’s Facebook page.  “Thank you for your watchful eye and jumping into action!”

Angie Pardue, a friend of the owner of the puppies, said the owners were thankful to both Serrano and the Cheyenne Police Department for the return of their dogs.

“The pups were excited to be reunited with all our critters, but you can see them here with their dad, happy to be home. You all reignited my faith that good people still exist, and our hearts are forever grateful,” Pardue said.



“I never thought we would see them again, and to all the people who took pictures, called in the location of them, and helped the officers and dispatchers do their jobs, I can’t thank you all enough,” she said.

The police department said investigations into the theft are ongoing.  

Police spokesperson Alex Farkas has not responded to a question on whether any arrests were made.

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Fort Washakie Man Faces Prison For Choking Girlfriend In Front Of Kids

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Fort Washakie man is facing possible prison time for assaulting his girlfriend, who is also the mother of his children.

Denver Lee John is charged with assault and attempted assault by strangulation and suffocation and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine in connection with the incident that occurred almost three years ago.

According to court documents, the victim was interviewed by the FBI earlier this year regarding an incident involving her and John in December 2018.

The victim said that she and John were in their Fort Washakie home when they began fighting. She remembered that at some point during the fight, she was on the floor, screaming, and John was holding her neck from behind and choking her.

She told the FBI agent that “things started to get dark,” that she started to see spots and could not breathe. She also recalled her body going limp, as if she was going to sleep.

The victim said when she regained consciousness, her children were present. One was crying and asked if she was OK. The victim did not report the incident to police because she was afraid of John, she told the FBI agent.

One of the victim’s children was interviewed about the incident and she confirmed seeing John choke her mother and that he only stopped when she lost consciousness.

The girl also confirmed that the children were around to witness the incident and that she had taken a short video of it on her cell phone.

The 11-second video contained audio of shouting and John telling the victim to “knock it off.” John is also seen with his arm around the victim’s neck.

Children can also be seen and heard in the video.

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Arapahoe Man Pleads Guilty To Running Friends Into Bonfire With Truck

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Arapahoe man faces up to 10 years in prison for knocking a number of his friends into a bonfire earlier this year, where they suffered severe burns.

Brian Luke Williams, 20, pleaded guilty to two counts of assaults resulting in serious bodily injury in U.S. District Court earlier this month. He will be sentenced in February and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The charges stem from a March 13 incident in which Williams was reportedly driving a truck in a reckless manner while intoxicated. He was driving in a field at a bonfire party on the Wind River Indian Reservation which was attended by several of his friends.

Williams lost control of the truck and knocked some people into the fire, causing them to be severely burned.

Williams transported one of the victims to the Riverton emergency room. The other victim was transported to the emergency room by another person at the party.

Williams remained at the hospital for several hours and called the victims’ family to report the incident.

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Man Leads Multiple Wyo Police Departments On Crazy Hour-Long High Speed Chase

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette man was arrested Sunday after leading officers from multiple Wyoming police departments on a high-speed chase in the middle of the night through parts of Natrona and Converse counties.

Louis Walker was booked into jail Sunday on multiple charges, including eluding police officers, reckless endangerment, possession of a controlled substance and more after leading authorities on a chase reaching speeds of up to 120 mph, according to Evansville Police Chief Mike Thompson.

According to the Evansville Police Department, at around 2:40 a.m. Sunday officers were on a routine patrol when one observed a white Chevy SUV go through a red light without attempting to stop.

The SUV then jumped the curve as it headed eastbound, then went across the barrow ditch and proceeded through a car wash

The car then pulled into the parking lot of the local Comfort Inn and stopped. While officers were giving commands for the car’s occupants to exit the vehicle, a passenger exited on the rear passenger side.

The vehicle’s driver then drove off with two occupants and police began a chase.

The pursuit went east and then south into Casper. There was little to no traffic on the roads, so officers continued the chase as the SUV went on Highway 20/26 and headed east.

As the pursuit neared Glenrock, officers from the Glenrock Police Department deployed tire deflation equipment. The SUV ran over a spike strip and continued east through Glenrock at a high rate of speed.

As the SUV neared Interstate 25 to go east, the driver side front tire came off of the rim. The SUV then got on the interstate heading south in the northbound lane, traveling at speeds of around 90 mph.

Wyoming Highway Patrol and Converse County Sheriff’s officers were notified and requested to assist along with the Douglas Police Department.

Between Glenrock and Douglas, the SUV came to a stop and officers could sparks coming from the wheel without a tire. A man exited the SUV, at which point the vehicle took off again.

The man who got out of the vehicle was detained by one officer as the others continued to pursue the SUV. The man told the officer that there were weapons in the vehicle and that the two occupants “would not go down without a fight.” the Evansville Police Department release said.

As the pursuit neared Douglas, officers again deployed spike strips, which the SUV ran over. It continued south in the northbound lane until it went off the road.

The SUV came to a complete stop after going over some rocks that were on the bank of a drainage ditch. The driver and passenger were then taken into custody.

Officers found a loaded handgun in the vehicle after the driver and occupant were removed at gunpoint from the vehicle.

The driver indicated there were drugs in the car and other information was given about the men using cocaine earlier in the evening at a local establishment.

Two of the men in the car are not allowed to have firearms by law.

The pursuit went for approximately 58 miles and several times reached speeds of 120 mph.

Thompson told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that usually when people run from the police for minor traffic violations, that is a sign that there is a worse crime taking place.

“You shouldn’t run from the police, it’s a huge safety issue for yourself and the vehicle’s occupants,” he said. “As a driver, if anything happens to them, you can be liable. It also leads to significant charges, which can affect people’s lives and livelihoods.”

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Canadians Charged After Evanston Bust Uncovers 750 Pounds Of Meth, Coke

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Canadian men are facing federal charges after being caught with almost 750 pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine during a Uinta County traffic stop last month.

Darren Kareem Hall and Brandon Layton Rampersaud each are charged with one count of intent to distribute methamphetamine, which carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison if found. They could also be fined $10 million.

According to court documents, around 10 a.m. on Oct. 24, Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper Scott Neilson was patrolling eastbound Interstate 80 near Evanston when he saw a red Dodge Caravan with Florida license plates traveling east and speeding at a rate of 84 mph in a 75 mph zone.

Neilson conducted a traffic stop and made contact with the two men, both of whom had Canadian drivers licenses. Rampersaud, the driver, apologized for speeding.

Court documents said Neilson could smell marijuana in the vehicle and saw two multi-colored backpacks, two elongated cardboard boxes and black bags inside.

Neilson brought Hall to his Highway Patrol vehicle, where the trooper’s K-9 partner Max alerted to some type of odor on Hall.

Hall told the trooper he and Rampersaud were on a road trip back to Canada, saying they had been in Las Vegas for two days for a concert. Upon inspecting the vehicle’s rental agreement, Neilson saw that the car had been rented in Los Angeles and was scheduled for drop-off in Chicago.

Hall returned to the Dodge and sent Rampersaud back to Neilson’s patrol car, where the K-9 again alerted to some type of odor.

When asked about their travel plans, Rampersaud said the men had been in Los Angeles and were headed to Denver, and then they would go to Chicago.

After giving Rampersaud a ticket for speeding, Neilson informed the man of his right to remain silent and mentioned the marijuana odor. Rampersaud said the marijuana belonged to Hall and had been purchased in Las Vegas.

Rampersaud did say that the marijuana was gone, but that an empty bag may still be in the car. In response to further questions from Neilson, Rampersaud denied transporting large amounts of drugs across the country.

According to Neilson’s affidavit, he went back to the Dodge and mentioned the marijuana smell to Hall and Hall produced a dispensary-style plastic tube used for storing pre-rolled joints from the passenger door pocket. He was then placed in the backseat of the patrol car, while Rampersaud was in the front seat.

While in the car, the vehicle’s camera recorded Rampersaud asking Hall what the trooper was doing and Hall informed him that Neilson was going to search the vehicle. Rampersaud told Hall that they were in trouble, albeit in different words.

Max the K-9 was deployed to sniff around the vehicle, while Hall punched the metal cage of the car and Rampersaud expressed concern.

Neilson unzipped a large black bag and found several large, clear plastic bags containing a white substance later identified as meth. A thorough search of the vehicle uncovered 635 pounds of methamphetamine and 112 pounds of cocaine.

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Autopsy: Laundrie Died Of Self-Inflicted Gunshot To Head

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Brian Laundrie, considered a “person of interest” in the death of death of Gabby Petito, died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, the lawyer for his family announced on Tuesday.

“Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was suicide,” attorney Steve Bertolino told The New York Post and other media outlets on Tuesday. “Chris and Roberta are still mourning the loss of their son and are hopeful that these findings bring closure to both families.”

A forensic anthropologist determined the cause of death to be suicide.

Laundrie’s remains were found a month ago in a Florida park. Dental records had to be used to confirm his identity.

The FBI also found a notebook and backpack belonging to Laundrie around the same time they found his remains. The contents of neither have yet been revealed to the public.

He was a person of interest in the death of his fiancee, Gabby Petito, who was reported missing at the beginning of September by her family. She had not been heard from since August. She and Laundrie had been traveling the country in a van.

On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida with the van and without Petito. He disappeared days later.

Petito’s body was found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest later in the month.

A warrant was issued for Laundrie’s arrest by the federal court in Cheyenne. The warrant did not accuse Laundrie of any role in Petito’s death, but accused of him of unlawfully using a credit card in the days following her disappearance.

In October, Teton County coroner Dr. Brent Blue confirmed the cause of Petito’s death as homicide by strangulation. He also said her body had been in the forest for three to four weeks before law enforcement officials discovered her remains.

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Wild High-Speed Chase Ends With Three Cars Destroyed & Consumed in Flames

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne man was arrested Thursday after allegedly leading Cheyenne police officers on a chase through the city that ended when all of the vehicles involved were destroyed in a grass fire.

No one was injured in the fire that broke out after police pursued Jason Nelson, 50, into a field, where the heat from the car he was driving and from the two police cars ignited a fire that consumed all three vehicles.

According to the Cheyenne Police Department, police received a call Thursday afternoon of a vehicle theft on Cheyenne’s south side. The department said Nelson allegedly stole a Buick Envision that was left unattended and running outside of a residence.

Using a cell phone inside the vehicle and its OnStar security system, officers were able to locate the Buick and began their pursuit about 15 minutes after receiving the report.

According to department reports, officers began pursuing the Buick about 15 minutes later, following it onto an on-ramp for Interstate 80.

OnStar was then used to remotely slow the vehicle and it swerved off of the on-ramp and into a field, where Nelson exited the car.

The two police cars in pursuit followed the Buick and the heat from all three vehicles ignited the fire.

Nelson was captured about 15 minutes after the chase began.

Cheyenne police in the pursuit probably called OnStar to ask for its assistance in stopping the vehicle, Scott Roybal, a Cheyenne city councilman and car salesman, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

“If the dispatcher has a partial (vehicle identification number) of the vehicle they’re chasing, OnStar can look it up on the GPS and then they can disable the engine,” he said.

Roybal said that at the dealership he works at, the employees can make a similar call to OnStar to have the cars shut down when they are stolen.

“It’s been happening a lot lately,” he said. “In the last year, we’ve lost more cars in Cheyenne than we probably have in the last 10 years.”

The case remains under investigation by the Cheyenne Police Department.

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Interstate 25 Closed For Nine Hours After Gunfight Erupts South of Wheatland

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Part of Interstate 25 between Chugwater and Wheatland was closed for more than nine hours early Tuesday morning after a high-speed chase ended with a gunfight south of Wheatland.

No one was injured in the shootout between the arrested driver and Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers.

According to patrol reports, late Monday evening, just after 11 p.m., a trooper attempted to pull over a silver Cadillac on Interstate 25 near Cheyenne after the car was observed speeding.

According to the Wyoming Highway Patrol, the driver failed to stop, and instead drove faster, leading the trooper on a high-speed chase north on I25, with speeds sometimes exceeding 100 mph.

When the vehicles entered Platte County, close to Wheatland, Platte County Sheriff’s deputies deployed a spike strip to deflate the Cadillac’s tires.

When the vehicle came to its abrupt stop after striking the strip, the driver exited the vehicle and began to shoot at the trooper. The trooper returned fire and soon the suspect, identified by the Highway Patrol only as a Colorado resident, was taken into custody. 

The suspect is currently being held in the Platte County Jail, and the case has been turned over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.

The northbound lane of I-25 remained closed until around 9 a.m. Tuesday, halting travel on the highway for several hours.

Drivers were advised that they could detour around the closure, but the detour would take travelers an additional hour out of their way.

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Park County Prosecutors Say They’ll Seek Life In Prison For 2020 Crime Spree

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Park County prosecutors say they will seek a life sentence for a man accused of being at the center of a 2020 crime spree.

Former Powell resident Bernabe Mena faces nine felony charges and a slew of allegations.

An investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies concluded that Mena and three others traveled from Billings to Park County in a stolen car in March 2020. Over the course of a night, authorities say the group burglarized a vehicle, shot a home and stole a truck in Cody, then traveled to Powell and led police on a high-speed chase that culminated in a violent collision with a patrol car, authorities say. 

The stolen truck from Cody crashed into a ditch, but some members of the group then led police on another pursuit back to Cody in the car taken from Billings. Drugs and alcohol were also reported to have been involved.

Mena’s three companions — Winter R. Killsnight, Shay A. Dontmix and Shyanna C. Wilson — were all apprehended within a matter of hours, but Mena escaped.

He was eventually arrested in Idaho, but had to answer to other charges in Montana before finally being returned to Park County last week. Mena was transferred to the Cody jail last week and made his initial court appearance on Friday.

Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield said the 34-year-old is currently serving a pair of sentences in Montana — including a five-year prison term for pistol-whipping a man in Billings about a month before the crime spree in Park County — and is being sought by authorities in Texas.

The prosecutor described Mena as both an extreme public safety hazard and an extreme flight risk, asking bond to be set at $1 million. Given Mena’s criminal history and the nature of the pending charges, Hatfield said his office will seek to designate Mena as a “habitual criminal,” which would bring the potential of a significantly enhanced sentence.

“With three prior felony convictions, if he’s convicted of any one of the five violent felonies here [in Park County], he would receive a mandatory life sentence,” Hatfield said in court.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters set Mena’s bond at $500,000. Even if he is able to post that amount, he would be remanded to the State of Montana’s custody instead of going free.

“Bottom line is, yeah, this will keep you here for the time being,” Waters said, answering a question from Mena about whether he’d be staying in Cody during the case or returning to a Montana prison.

The Park County Attorney’s Office initially filed multiple felony charges against Killsnight, Dontmix and Wilson — the three other people alleged to have participated in the crime spree — but have at least temporarily dropped the cases. At a hearing in Park County District Court last year, Hatfield indicated that his office was striking deals that could involve the individuals testifying against Mena. However, Dontmix has since been rearrested in Montana on multiple new charges.

After their arrests, the three reportedly told police they did not know Mena well, claiming to only know him as “G” or “B.” It took police and prosecutors a couple of weeks to put together and file a case against him.

It Was A Blur

According to charging documents, Mena and the other three individuals arrived in Cody on the night of March 20, 2020, in a stolen Hyundai Accent. At some point, they reportedly stole 9mm ammunition and other items from a parked car while Mena allegedly fired a round from an illegally sawed-off Winchester shotgun into a trailer in Juby’s Mobile Home Court; rounds from the gun entered the trailer, but no one was home at the time.

Charging documents contain no indication as to how the group picked its targets. Killsnight told police she thought the group was “in the middle of nowhere” when Mena fired the shotgun; she also said the four consumed alcohol, smoked marijuana and used meth during their time together.

At roughly 1:50 a.m., Mena, Dontmix and Killsnight posed for a series of cellphone photos, which showed Mena armed with the shotgun and Dontmix carrying a semi-automatic handgun, Cody police found.

“It was a blur,” Killsnight reportedly told Cody Police Detective Rick Tillery. “They started going buck wild with their guns — or he (Mena) did.”

Around 3:15 a.m., the group reportedly stole a 2008 Chevy pickup that had been left running for a few minutes outside a 26th Street residence.

Less than 20 minutes later, a Powell police officer spotted the stolen truck and the stolen Accent speeding into town at 96 mph. A chase ensued. The Chevy truck — with Mena allegedly at the wheel — nearly collided head-on with one officer, then smashed into the rear driver’s side of another patrol vehicle at 80 mph on Coulter Avenue. The officer was reportedly left sore, while the squad car was totaled. Meanwhile, the stolen truck crashed into the Garland Canal and Mena fled, according to the narrative laid out in charging documents; Killsnight, who’d been riding in the vehicle, was left behind and arrested. 

As police processed the scene, they spotted the stolen Hyundai Accent — which had gotten away — in the area and again gave pursuit. The driver hit speeds of more than 100 mph while racing toward Cody on U.S. Highway 14-A, police said. Cody police used spike strips to stop the vehicle on Big Horn Avenue around 6:30 a.m., but the occupant(s) fled.

Wilson and Dontmix were arrested later on March 21 when they tried shoplifting a coat and compressed air from Walmart (they told police they were stranded and cold), but Mena got away.

Dropped Charges

The Park County Attorney’s Office filed seven felony and one misdemeanor charges against Killsnight, Dontmix and Wilson. At an initial court hearing, Dontmix protested that he and Wilson “got out, like, before all that happened, before all the police and everything.” However, all three suspects were initially held on bonds of $100,000, with the theoretical possibility of more than 100 years of prison time hanging over their heads.

In mid-July 2020, about four months after her arrest, prosecutors dropped all of the charges against Wilson while reserving the ability to refile them. Then in December, deputy prosecutor Hatfield asked for Dontmix and Killsnight — who’d been held in jail for nearly nine months — to be released on their own recognizance. Hatfield said it was “very likely” that he’d be offering a plea deal that would involve dismissing the most serious charges and potentially seeking probation instead of additional jail or prison time.

District Court Judge Bill Simpson balked at the request to lower the suspects’ bonds, noting the state had previously made “a very strong argument” against releasing Dontmix and Killsnight. The judge pushed Hatfield for details on why the state’s position had changed.

“It is necessary for the court to try to understand, particularly in view of the severity of the charges, why this has suddenly gone from $100,000 cash public health and safety issues to zero,” Simpson said at the Dec. 18 hearing.

Hatfield explained that, after further investigating their roles in the case and listening to months of calls they placed from the jail, he believed Killsnight and Dontmix “would not engage in subsequent misconduct” and return for future court appearances. He also said Killsnight, who had expressed a desire to enter a drug treatment program, was at risk of losing her parental rights if she remained in jail.

Hatfield added that the state was expecting Dontmix and Killsnight to truthfully testify against Mena. Killsnight’s defense attorney, Tim Blatt, said the potential cooperation with the state had been “kind of [kept] under wraps” because of safety concerns.

“Despite the fact that Mr. Mena is incarcerated in Montana, there are reasons to believe that he knows other individuals that could potentially pose harm to anybody that might be willing to testify against him,” Blatt said.

Judge Simpson remained uncomfortable with releasing the two defendants on a signature bond given the severity of the charges, so Hatfield moved to drop them. He did so without prejudice, which allows the county attorney’s office to refile the charges at any time.

Although Killsnight and Dontmix were technically freed without any conditions, Judge Simpson suggested that they obey the law, stay away from people involved in criminal activity and stay clean and sober.

“If you don’t, Mr. Hatfield could re-file this within about 10 minutes. A warrant could be issued. … And wherever you are within the United States and many foreign countries, that warrant could be implemented and you could be brought back to stand trial,” Simpson warned.

Dontmix, 26, apparently didn’t follow the judge’s advice. In February — about two months after his release from jail — federal prosecutors in Montana say he possessed stolen firearms. Then in March, he allegedly led Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies and a helicopter on a high-speed chase in the Billings area before getting stuck in a field, KULR8 reported. Charging documents obtained by KULR8 say police found ammunition and drug-related items in the vehicle, while a passenger in the vehicle reportedly said Dontmix had fired a gun into an unoccupied vehicle the day before. He remained in the Cascade County Detention Center in Great Falls, Montana, on Monday on the federal firearms charge.

Habitual Criminal

Meanwhile, Mena was brought back to Park County to face trial on Nov. 9. He was wanted on the charges stemming from the March 2020 spree, plus a pending felony drug charge from 2018 and for failing to pay fines and failing to show up for court in three misdemeanor drug-related cases dating back to 2017 and 2018.

However, the new charges are far more serious, in part because Mena was allegedly armed at the time he committed the crimes. He faces two counts of aggravated burglary, two counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, robbery, theft, conspiracy to commit theft, aggravated fleeing or eluding police, property destruction and conspiracy to commit property destruction. 

Because some are classified as violent felonies, and because Mena has three prior felony convictions, Hatfield said he intends to try seeking a sentence of life imprisonment under Wyoming’s “habitual criminal” statute.

A preliminary hearing in the case is tentatively set for Friday.

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Laramie Man Sentenced To Prison For Threatening Lummis, Barrasso, Bouchard

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Laramie man was sentenced this week to prison for threatening four state and national political figures earlier this year.

Christopher Kent Podlesnik, 52, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce. The sentence also includes three years of supervised release, a fine of $10,000 and special assessments totaling $400.

A federal grand jury charged Podlesnik with leaving voicemail messages threatening various elected officials on Jan. 28, including U.S. Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Wyoming Sen. Anthony  Bouchard, R-Cheyenne.

His messages included profanity-laced and threatening language constituting true threats. As defined by the Supreme Court, true threats are “statements where the speaker means to  communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular  individual or group of individuals.” 

According to the indictment, Podlesnik left three voicemails for Lummis on different contact numbers, threatening to shoot her in the head.

“I will [expletive] kill you. I will,” he said in one voicemail.

He left two voicemails on phones connected to Barrasso, threatening him in regards to a recent Wyoming visit by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who was in the state to criticize U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s impeachment vote against former President Donald Trump.

“You let Gaetz step into the state of Wyoming, not only is he going to be dead…you’re going to be dead,” Podlesnik told Barrasso, according to the indictment.

In a voicemail to Bouchard, Podlesnik said, among other things, “You’re a [expletive] traitor, and you deserve to be shot” and saying that he would take Bouchard down.

Finally, the indictment said, Podlesnik left a voicemail with a contact number for Gaetz, saying he would put two bullets in the congressman’s head.

“As Americans, we cherish the freedoms secured by our Bill of Rights, including our freedom of  speech,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray. “However, the criminal threats Christopher Podlesnik made with the intent to place multiple victims in fear of injury or death are not free  speech protected by the Constitution. Rather, those threats cost him a hefty fine and 18 months in  federal prison.” 

This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Szott. 

“The FBI vigorously pursues all credible threats directed at our elected officials,” said Michael Schneider, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Denver Division. “I am extremely proud of our  Wyoming agents who successfully investigated this case and worked within the justice system to hold Mr. Podlesnik accountable for his actions. I want to thank our law enforcement partners who also worked on this matter to include the U.S. Capitol Police, Wyoming Highway Patrol and the  Laramie Police Department.” 

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Gillette Man Arrested For Pointing Gun At Neighbor While Drunk, Endangering Daughter

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Gillette man was arrested this past weekend after he reportedly pointed a gun at his neighbor while intoxicated and left the firearm within reach of his 9-year-old daughter, police said Monday.

Officers were dispatched to a residence on Saddle String Circle around 7 p.m. Nov. 13 after it was reported that two neighbors were reportedly having a dispute and that a firearm was involved, according to Gillette Police Corporal Dan Stroup.

One neighbor, identified by independent witnesses as 33-year-old Caleb Starr, allegedly approached his neighbor, who was standing outside, and pointed a black handgun at him before retreating inside his own residence, Stroup said.

Starr, when contacted by officers, was reportedly heavily intoxicated and had left the loaded pistol on a couch, where his 9-year-old daughter was able to pick it up and move it, per Stroup.

Officers charged Starr with reckless endangering with a firearm and child endangerment.

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Casper Man Arrested For Shooting, Killing Relative

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Casper man has been arrested in connection with the shooting and killing of another man on Friday morning, the Casper Police Department announced Monday.

Vincent Daniel Hayes, 38, was arrested Friday and charged with one count of second-degree murder, the department said on social media.

Around 5:45 a.m. on Friday, Casper police responded to a report of a shooting at a residence on East 12th Street. Upon arrival to the scene, officers found a dead adult male inside the house.

Officers believe the incident is isolated, as Hayes and the victim were related. The investigation is ongoing and more information will be released as it becomes available.

“The Casper Police Department extends our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victim and our entire community as we mourn the loss of one of our citizens,” the department said on social media.

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Man Facing Charges For Trespassing Onto Cheyenne Air Force Base

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man is facing two charges in federal court for allegedly trespassing onto the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne last week and getting into an altercation with security personnel.

Kelly Wind Harris, 33, is charged with entering a military base for unlawful reasons and assaulting Air Force security forces. If convicted of both counts, he could serve one year and six months in prison and faces $105,000 in fines.

According to court documents, on Nov. 4, F.E. Warren security forces responded to a report of an unknown person walking through the air base’s housing area, looking through windows.

A staff sergeant made made contact with Harris, who told the officer that he went through a fence to the base as a shortcut to a Cheyenne liquor store.

Harris was escorted inside of a building on the base, where the staff sergeant continued the interview. While talking, Harris said he was going to leave and stood up.

When told to sit down, Harris said “I’m going to [expletive] leave now” and tucked his shoulder down while running toward the sergeant, who was standing in the doorway of the room.

The sergeant braced himself for impact and when Harris hit him, he wrapped his arms around Harris and took him to the ground.

While officers attempted to detain him, Harris resisted, but they eventually got him in handcuffs.

Harris also told officers his name was Kevin Harrison and that his birthdate was Oct. 31, 1988. He reiterated this name and birth date, even after being told it was unlawful to lie to a federal agent.

He ended up giving a different birth date, Oct. 31, 1984, but again, officials could find no record of him.

Harris allegedly became combative again, resisting and throwing himself into the security forces. He had to be held on the ground for the remainder of the investigation.

He finally gave his lawful name and birth date.

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Woman Charged After Shooting Gun At Mother In Cody

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A Cody woman is in custody after she allegedly brandished and fired a pistol during a Wednesday dispute with her mother and teenage child. Cody police say the bullet was fired “toward” the suspect’s mother and went into a neighbor’s garage.

Carolyn Wood is facing five criminal charges — four felonies and a misdemeanor — in connection with last week’s incident in Cody. As of Monday, the 34-year-old remained in custody at the Park County Detention Center, with bail set at $25,000 pending further proceedings.

The Park County Attorney’s Office had asked Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters to set bond at $50,000, citing the serious nature of the charges and concerns about Wood’s mental health.

At her Friday court appearance, Wood insisted that she had not shot at her mother. Amid sobs, Wood said she had pointed the gun at her own head and then toward the ground. 

“I would never hurt anyone — ever,” she said.

Charging documents allege that Wood became upset after a family member picked her 13-year-old child up from school. The teenager was sick and had to go home, Wood’s mother reportedly told police, but school officials were unable to reach Wood; her mother then arranged for another family member to get the child.

A couple hours later, however, around 2:30 p.m., Wood showed up at her mother’s nearby residence. She reportedly began yelling at, berating and threatening her mother and child.

According to Wood’s mother, “Wood was also waving the gun around and pointed the gun at [her mother] and at or near [her child],” Cody Police Det. Sgt. Trapp Heydenberk wrote in an affidavit used to support the charges.

Wood ultimately fired a shot “toward” her mother before returning to her apartment, Heydenberk wrote, while leaving the gun in a camouflage bag beside her car.

Cody Regional Health

Personnel from the Cody Police Department, Park County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Highway Trooper responded to Wood’s apartment complex in the 1700 block of 18th Street around 2:36 p.m. Wednesday. Within about 20 minutes, Wood exited her apartment and was arrested.

At Wood’s initial appearance in Circuit Court on Friday morning, Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield said Wood pointed a gun at her mother and son, made threats and “then decided to take a shot at her mother.” Combined with concerns about Wood’s mental health — not only from Wednesday’s shooting but from an unspecified February incident — Hatfield said he believed the defendant was “a serious public safety hazard.”

However, while the prosecutor was speaking, Wood loudly interjected that, “I did not take a shot at my mom.”

Judge Waters encouraged the defendant to exercise her right to remain silent, and Wood responded that, “I wouldn’t shoot anyone.”

“Oh, I didn’t see anything in the affidavit that suggests that’s what you were doing,” Waters offered.

Prosecutors have filed three counts of aggravated assault and battery: one alleges Wood attempted to injure her mother with a deadly weapon; another alleges she threatened her mother with a drawn, deadly weapon; and a third alleges that Wood threatened to use a drawn deadly weapon on her 13-year-old child.

She also faces a felony count of possessing a deadly weapon with unlawful intent and a misdemeanor count of property destruction for the damage to the neighboring garage.

Waters has tentatively scheduled a preliminary hearing in the case for Friday.

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Two Teens Struck By Car In Cheyenne On Monday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two children were struck by a car while crossing a Cheyenne street on Monday, the city’s police department announced.

Around 7 a.m. Monday, Cheyenne police officers responded to a report of two teenagers being hit by a car. An investigation revealed the two boys, ages 13 and 15, were attempting to cross the street at a crosswalk near Cheyenne’s East High School.

While crossing, both boys were struck by an oncoming GMC Acadia. They both sustained minor injuries and were transported to the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

The driver of the vehicle stayed on scene and was issued a citation for failure to yield.

“The Cheyenne Police Department is extremely concerned about safety on our roads,” said Cheyenne Police Chief Mark Francisco. “Pick-up and drop-off times are especially dangerous for both students and drivers near school zones.”

The department shared that 238 traffic incidents have occurred in that area in 2021. Of those incidents, 50 have occurred at the scene of Monday’s accident.

“Safety is a shared responsibility; we ask our citizens to help keep everyone safe by slowing down, limiting distractions, and being courteous to others on our roadways – especially in school zones,” said Francisco.

This incident occurred just days after a teen was struck and killed by a driver in Cheyenne while crossing the street last week.

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Cheyenne Student Struck and Killed By Car on Friday Morning

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

The Cheyenne Police Department is reporting that a 13-year-old male was killed on Friday morning after being struck by a vehicle.

The police said the juvenile was hit by a Ford Escape at approximately 7 a.m. near McCormick Jr. High School.

The student was attempting to cross Western Hill Boulevard on the crosswalk when he was hit by the car.

“The victim sustained critical injuries and was transported by ambulance to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead,” the report said.

The driver of the vehicle remained on-site during the investigation.

In a statement released late Friday, Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins said there were “no words” to adequately express the grief for the loss of the child.

“Judy and I send our heartfelt condolences, thoughts, and prayers to the family of the 13-year-old who lost his life today. These condolences extend to the McCormick students and staff who knew this young man so well,” Collins said.

We’re also thinking of our first responders who were on site to do their job and help any way they could. Life is precious. This is a reminder to cherish and love those around you,” he said.

One thing I do know is Cheyenne will rally behind and support this young man’s family as well as the McCormick students and staff. Our community will step up and help in such a time of need. That’s why I love this community and its people.”

Friends of the family took to the Cheyenne Police Department’s Facebook page to offer their condolences.

“My heart is breaking for his family and all of his friends. My daughter has been friends with him since kindergarten, she is devastated. We are so heartbroken!! Praying for the family,” wrote Bethany Way.

“Rest in peace sweet boy….my daughter adored you as a friend and we are so devastated by this loss,” wrote LD Hensala.

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Man Killed In High Speed Chase With Wyoming Highway Patrol, 80 Pounds Of Weed Found In Car

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man was killed on Wednesday during a high speed pursuit he initiated with the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

On Wednesday, Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers stopped a 2021 Chrysler van on Interstate 80 near Green River for a traffic infraction.

During the stop, the driver, who was standing outside, attempted to jump back into the van and drive away after speaking with the troopers for a short time.

Troopers attempted to stop him, but were unsuccessful. They pursued the vehicle as the driver fled east on I-80 headed toward Rock Springs.

The pursuit reached speeds of over 120 miles per hour. Law enforcement successfully deployed spike strips on the interstate to deflate the vehicle’s tires.

The driver continued to evade troopers, but collided with the back of a belly dump combination commercial vehicle at a high rate of speed after exiting the interstate at an exit ramp.

The driver was killed due to injuries sustained in the crash, although the commercial vehicle driver was unharmed. Troopers found approximately 83 pounds of suspected marijuana in the vehicle.

The driver’s identification is being withheld until their next of kin is notified, the WHP noted in a release.

The investigation is ongoing.

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Man Convicted Of Living In National Forest In Garbage-Strewn Mess

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man has been found guilty in federal court in Wyoming of living in a national forest that borders the state.

In August, the U.S. Forest Service received multiple complaints regarding a long-term campsite managed by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in Idaho.

Law enforcement investigated the complaint and found an unattended campfire, several dilapidated vehicles, trailer homes and extensive garbage scattered throughout the area.

“The trailers were parked haphazardly throughout the trees and brush, causing extensive resource damage,” said Rayce Angell, USFS Patrol Captain.

USFS officers were able to contact an adult male at the campsite, who admitted to living in the forest and acknowledged all the items were his. He was issued three federal citations.

Two weeks later, the officers came across the same man at a different location in the forest. He acknowledged that he was continuing to live in the forest and was trying to sell his belongings.

An officer issued additional federal citations to the man.

In October, the man, who was not identified by the Forest Service, was found guilty of three misdemeanor citations: residing on forest lands, leaving a campfire unattended and leaving a campsite in unsanitary conditions.

The man was banned from being on or engaging in any activity on both Caribou-Targhee National Forest and Bridger-Teton National Forest for five years.

He was also placed on probation for a length of five years and fined $800. 

Federal violations are pending for an adult female who was with the male at one of the campsites.

Taking up residence on national forest system lands and/or facilities is illegal. The USFS appreciates members of the public for reporting violations and urges individuals to continue to report any suspicious or illegal activity on their public lands. 

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Gillette Man Arrested By Feds In Underage Sex Sting

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Gillette man was arrested last week in a federal investigation into men allegedly seeking underage girls for sex.

James David Moore has not yet pleaded to the charge of attempting to entice a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. If convicted, he faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Last week, Wyoming Homeland Security agents took part in an investigation with other agencies targeting men who were seeking sex with children online.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the charges, prior to the sting, an advertisement was posted on an adult escort website for the Billings, Montana, area that included photos of two petite adult women and listed their ages as 19. A phone number was given for men to text the girls.

On Wednesday afternoon, Moore texted the number, inquiring if the girls were in Billings and if they took cash. A Homeland Security agent responded, saying cash was great and that the girls were actually 12 and 14.

Moore and the agent texted for about seven hours on Wednesday. He questioned the agent’s age, if she was available for services, if she and the kids were traveling to Wyoming and demanded to know if the agent was actually a law enforcement officer.

Later that evening, the agent and Moore spoke over the phone for about 20 minutes, during which he asked what the “rules” for the girls were and said he wanted to see both of them. He also said he would “take it slow and easy” with the younger girl.

Moore asked the agent to meet him “halfway” in Sheridan, and that he would pay for a hotel room for her and the girls. He did say he was nervous because he had “never done this young thing.”

On Thursday, Moore and the agent continued discuss the logistics of planning a sexual encounter with the girls.

On Friday, Moore got a hotel room in Sheridan with the intent of meeting a woman with the girls and spoke with a Homeland Security agent in the parking lot at one point. He asked if she and the girls would join him while registering for the hotel room, if she would stay “during” and flashed a wad of cash at her.

Upon exiting his vehicle, Moore was arrested and $1,200 was found on his person.

Moore admitted to speaking with the agent about the sexual encounter and told police that he should have reported the woman he encountered online about selling her daughters for sex.

When asked directly about the ages of the girls and the sex acts discussed, Moore stated all of the information would be on his phone. Following his interview with police, he was taken to the Johnson County Detention Center.

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Man Pleads Not Guilty To Possessing $150M Worth Of Fentanyl

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court last week to a charge of possessing fentanyl with an intent to distribute filed in his arrest this summer with an estimated $150 million worth of the drug in his vehicle.

Diego J. Aguilar-Valdovinos entered his plea Oct. 25 during his initial appearance in federal court. His trial is set for Jan. 3.

Aguilar-Valdovinos was arrested in July when a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper stopped him for speeding east of Cheyenne on Interstate 80.

The trooper became suspicious of Aguilar-Valdovinos, who was driving a 2021 Hyundai Kona, when the man provided inconsistent and implausible travel plans.

The trooper detained the driver and deployed a drug-sniffing dog around the exterior of the car. The dog gave an alert to an odor inside the vehicle.

A search of the car was conducted and the trooper found approximately 24 pounds of suspected fentanyl, a highly potent opioid, inside the vehicle.

Aguilar-Valdovinos was arrested and charged with felony transportation, distribution and possession of narcotics.

“Fentanyl has become more of a prevalent drug in recent years and can be lethal for law enforcement and first responders who come in contact with it,” the WHP said in a social media post at the time of the arrest. “Individuals can experience potentially fatal effects from minimal amounts of the drug. If Fentanyl is taken in conjunction with other opiates, its lethal dose is even smaller. To put it into perspective, two milligrams of Fentanyl can be deadly to a human.”

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Dead Man Found Near Remote Town of Hiland, Wyoming Was Murdered Cops Say

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man whose body was found in rural Natrona County last month has been identified as a Wyoming resident who was a murder victim, according to Natrona County law enforcement officials.

The body found Sept. 15, a body near Hiland, an unincorporated community about 55 miles west of Casper with a population of 10, has been identified as that of Jay Carlos Montoya, 36, officials announced Tuesday.

The cause of death was determined to be a homicide, according to the Natrona County Coroner James Whipps.

Cowboy State Daily called the only business located in Hiland — Steelman’s Bright Spot — to ask if anyone recognized the name of the deceased.

The person who answered the phone said she did not.

Anyone with information related to Montoya’s death is encouraged to contact the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office investigations division at 307-235-9282.

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Gillette Man Attempts to Evade DUI By Claiming 15-Year-Old Was Driving, Not 4-Year-Old

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By staff reports

Although widely reported that a Gillette man tried to avoid a DUI charge by telling officers that his 4-year-old son was driving his car, that was not the case.

According to police records, Joseph Nowacki, 39, blamed his 15-year-old son for driving the car when he was pulled over for drunk-driving on Saturday.

But the police didn’t buy it.

Instead, Nowcki was arrested for DUI, probation violation and interlock required on Oct. 23 after a Campbell County sheriff’s deputy reportedly pulled over his pickup in Gillette, according to affidavit filed in the Circuit Court of the Sixth Judicial District in Campbell County.

Nowacki’s wife reported her husband had allegedly driven off with two juveniles in a white Ford pickup with Oklahoma plates around 7:30 p.m. after the two had gotten into a verbal argument at their home.

When the deputy caught up with the vehicle and attempted to pull Nowacki over, he reportedly sped up before making a U-turn in an intersection into a residential neighborhood. As the driver turned, the deputy could see a white male behind the wheel who he later identified as Nowacki, court documents say.

The driver did not immediately stop when the deputy attempted to pull him over and instead coasted to a stop at which point he jumped out of the vehicle and walked quickly towards a house with two juveniles jumping out of the driver’s door behind him.

When the deputy caught up to Nowacki, he smelled like alcohol and was slurring his words, court documents state. Nowacki reportedly admitted that he was on probation for a prior DUI and was on unsupervised probation. He denied he was driving, however, and claimed that the 15-year-old passenger, who has his learners permit, was sitting on his lap and driving the pickup, according to the affidavit.

Not only was Nowacki forbidden to drink alcohol per the terms of his probation, but he was also required to have an interlocking device on his vehicle which he did not have.

He refused to perform a field sobriety test or provide a breath test and was taken into custody and transported to Campbell County Detention Center where a blood search warrant was applied for and granted.

Nowacki was arrested in January 2021 for DWUI and was on 18-month unsupervised probation.

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Woman Who Allegedly Murdered Brother In Oklahoma Texted Victim Before Death

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A woman arrested in Sweetwater County in connection with an Oklahoma murder sent multiple texts to the murder victim before his death, investigators have announced.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation on Friday released more details from its investigation into the murder of 56-year-old Michael “Andy” McGuffee in Blanchard, Oklahoma earlier this month.

Debbie Senft, 47, and Zachary Mussett, 26, both of Texarkana, Texas, are currently in custody at the Sweetwater County Detention Center and are awaiting extradition to Oklahoma to face charges related to the murder.

An affidavit filed in support of charges said a family member went to McGuffee’s home after he did not show up for work on Oct. 15. The front door of his residence was “scorched,” according to the Chickasha, Oklahoma News-Express.

The family member found McGuffee’s body wrapped in a blanket and investigators found he had multiple stab wounds to his chest and neck.

An OSBI agent reported it was likely McGuffee was killed in the living room and moved to his bedroom. It was reported it would have taken two people to move his body. 

The inside of McGuffee’s residence had been burned and OSBI found that multiple types of accelerant had been used to set the fire.

OSBI obtained a search warrant for McGuffee’s cell phone and found multiple texts exchanged between McGuffee and Senft, the victim’s half-sister.

“You have always been one of the two most important people in the world to me and I love you so much,” one message Senft sent to her half-brother said. “I would really like to be able to see you and spend some time with you.”

Several items had also been stolen from the home, including multiple guns and the man’s pickup truck, the affidavit said. 

Last week, agents discovered that items stolen from McGuffee were pawned in Salina, Kansas.

A few days later, agents recovered the pickup truck at a car wash in Oklahoma City.

The investigation then led agents to Wyoming.

Senft and Mussett were located 15 miles east of Rock Springs on Interstate 80 last week. The Wyoming Highway Patrol pulled over the moving truck Senft and Mussett were driving and agents with Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation took the pair into custody.

In an interview with OSBI, Mussett allegedly said he had gone to McGuffee’s house with his mother. The three talked, ate and watched movies.

Mussett told the OSBI agent that at one point, things became “fuzzy” and that he remembered leaving the residence in the car he and his mother had driven to McGuffee’s house.

He also said his mother may have left in McGuffee’s pickup, according to the affidavit.

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Mother, Son Arrested Near Rock Springs In Oklahoma Murder

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A mother and son sought in connection with an Oklahoma murder were arrested near Rock Springs this week, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Debbie Senft, 47, and Zachary Mussett, 26, both of Texarkana, Texas, are currently in custody at the Sweetwater County Detention Center and are awaiting extradition to Oklahoma to face charges related to the murder of 56-year-old Michael “Andy” McGuffee, the OSBI announced Friday.

Both the mother and son have been charged with one count of first-degree murder. Senft, who is McGuffee’s half-sister, and Mussett are being held without bond.

On Oct. 15, McGuffee’s wife was contacted when he did not show up for work in Blanchard, Oklahoma. She sent a family member to check on him.

When that family member arrived at the residence and saw signs of a fire, he contacted the Blanchard Police Department. After officers arrived at the scene and found McGuffee’s body, the Blanchard Police Department asked for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s assistance with the investigation.

When OSBI agents arrived on the scene, they determined McGuffee was the victim of a homicide.

While agents processed the crime scene, it was discovered that a fire had been started intentionally and many items were stolen from the residence, including McGuffee’s pickup truck.  

Early this week, agents discovered that items stolen from McGuffee were pawned in Salina, Kansas. At that point, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation went and collected the evidence from the pawn shop.

A few days later, agents recovered the pickup truck at a car wash in Oklahoma City.

The investigation then led agents to Wyoming.

Senft and Mussett were located 15 miles east of Rock Springs on Interstate 80 this week. The Wyoming Highway Patrol pulled over the moving truck Senft and Mussett were driving and agents with Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation took the pair into custody.

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Attorney Believes Human Remains Found In Florida Are Brian Laundrie’s

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The attorney for the family of Brian Laundrie believes that the partial human remains found in a Florida park this week are likely those of the former fiance of murder victim Gabby Petito.

Attorney Steve Bertolino told CNN late Wednesday that “the probability is strong that it is Brian’s remains.”

“It’s quite sad, you can imagine as a parent, finding your son’s belongings alongside some remains. That’s got to be heartbreaking. And I can tell you that they are heartbroken,” Bertolino said Wednesday night.

CNN reported this week that after a brief search Wednesday of a trail Laundrie frequented, the Laundrie family and law enforcement found “some articles” belonging to him.

According to the FBI, which gave a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, the items found were a notebook and a backpack belonging to Laundrie. During the news conference, officials said they could not confirm if the remains found were Laundrie’s.

The notebook and backpack were first signs of Laundrie since he disappeared in mid-September after Petito was reported missing. Laundrie has never been named a suspect in Petito’s death, but is considered a person of interest.

Petito’s body was found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest last month after she was last heard from in August. She and Laundrie had been traveling the country in a van.

On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida with the van and without Petito.

A warrant has been issued for Laundrie’s arrest by the federal court in Cheyenne. The warrant does not accuse Laundrie of any role in Petito’s death, but accuses of him of unlawfully using a credit card in the days following her disappearance.

Last week, Teton County coroner Dr. Brent Blue confirmed the cause of Petito’s death as homicide by strangulation. He also said her body had been in the forest for three to four weeks before law enforcement officials discovered her remains.

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Investigators Find Brian Laundrie’s Items In Florida Park

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Law enforcement officials discovered several items belonging to the man sought in the murder of Gabby Petito in a Florida park on Wednesday.

CNN reported that after a brief search Wednesday of a trail Brian Laundrie frequented, the Laundrie family and law enforcement found “some articles” belonging to him, family attorney Steve Bertolino said.

According to the FBI, which gave a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, the items found were a notebook and a backpack belonging to Laundrie.

Involved in Wednesday’s search were Laundrie’s parents, who have been described as uncooperative in the investigation into their son’s disappearance and the murder of Petito, his fiancee.

Bertolino would not give any further information on what or how many items were found, but did say law enforcement was conducting a more thorough search of the area.

A video obtained by Fox News showed the Laundries and law enforcement officers together. The officer appeared to tell the parents: “I think we might have found something.”

NBC news reported that partial human remains appear to have been found near a backpack in the Florida park. The FBI said they could not confirm if the remains were Laundrie’s.

The Sarasota County, Florida, medical examiner and a cadaver dog were also brought to the scene, according to media reports.

This is the first sign of Laundrie since he disappeared in mid-September following Petito being reported missing. Laundrie has never been named a suspect in Petito’s death, but is considered a person of interest.

Petito’s body was found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest last month after she was last heard from in August. She and Laundrie had been traveling the country in a van.

On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida with the van and without Petito.

A warrant has been issued for Laundrie’s arrest by the federal court in Cheyenne. The warrant does not accuse Laundrie of any role in Petito’s death, but accuses of him of unlawfully using a credit card in the days following her disappearance.

Last week, Teton County coroner Dr. Brent Blue confirmed the cause of Petito’s death as homicide by strangulation. He also said her body had been in the forest for three to four weeks before law enforcement officials discovered her remains.

Nicole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, called Laundrie a “coward” during an appearance on “60 Minutes Australia” over the weekend.

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Gabby Petito’s Mother Calls Brian Laundrie A “Coward” In Interview

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The mother of murder victim Gabby Petito, speaking during a recent appearance on “60 Minutes Australia,” called the man being sought in connection with her daughter’s death a coward.

Nicole Schmidt, who appeared on the show over the weekend with Petito’s father and stepfather, was explicit in her thoughts about Brian Laundrie, who disappeared shortly before Petito’s body was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest.

“He’s a coward,” she said. “He consciously knows what he’s doing.”

Petito’s body was found in the forest in northwest Wyoming last month after she was last heard from in August. She and Laundrie, her fiance, had been traveling the country in a van. On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida with the van and without Petito.

Nicole Schmidt did say she was concerned about her daughter going on the road trip, but felt more secure due to the fact that she would be with Laundrie. The mother and daughter spoke regularly, about every other day, while Petito and Laundrie were out seeing the country.

Schmidt and Petito last spoke by video conference on Aug. 24. Petito was reported missing by her family on Sept. 11 and her body was found on Sept. 19. Laundrie was reported missing in Florida on Sept. 17.

Laundrie has yet to be found, despite extensive searches by law enforcement agencies, along with Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman. A warrant has been issued for Laundrie’s arrest by the federal court in Cheyenne. The warrant does not accuse Laundrie of any role in Petito’s death, but accuses of him of unlawfully using a credit card in the days following her disappearance.

Nicole Schmidt told “60 Minutes Australia” that Laundrie had always been polite, but quiet whenever he was around Petito’s family. However, she said he got along well with Petito’s younger siblings.

“He just seemed like a nice guy,” she said.

Nicole Schmidt said she did not even know Laundrie had been home with his family for nearly two weeks until she reported her daughter missing.

Last week, Teton County coroner Dr. Brent Blue confirmed Petito’s cause and manner of death as homicide by strangulation. He also said her body had been in the forest for three to four weeks before law enforcement officials discovered her remains.

“I just hope she didn’t suffer and that she wasn’t in any pain, that she was in a place she wanted to be, looking at the beautiful mountains,” Nicole Schmidt said.

The Schmidts believed Laundrie is hiding from police to escape justice.

“We were up every day and every night until we found Gabby,” said stepfather Jim Schmidt. “Are the people that love him doing the same for him? And why not?”

Joe Petito, Gabby’s father, echoed similar sentiments, questioning why Laundrie’s parents have refused to speak with police about the incident.

During their appearance, the family members expressed frustration.

“Gabby was 22-years-old. Her life was stolen from her,” Jim Schmidt said. “She was taken from us. This was evil.”

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Brian Laundrie Search Turns Into Circus With Laundrie Lawyer Attacking Dog The Bounty Hunter And John Walsh

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It was likely bound to happen when two celebrity detectives got involved in a crime investigation that has captured the attention of the nation.

The search for Gabby Petito’s fiancé Brian Laundrie turned into even more of a circus when Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman and television host John Walsh became very much of the story as they launched their own investigations into the matter.

The outspoken and brash attorney for Laundrie’s family doesn’t appear to appreciate their involvement and lashed out at the two on Thursday stating that the two crime-solvers are aging attention-seekers who are investigating the case to get publicity for themselves.

“Dusty relics like that Dog and John Walsh need a tragic situation like this so they can clear the cobwebs off their names and give their publicity hungry egos some food,” Steve Bertolino told TMZ on Thursday.

Chapman, never one to back down, fired back at Bertolini suggesting that he prefers Laundrie to remain missing.

“It’s ironic that Mr. Bertolino would criticize the people trying to find Brian Laundrie, unless perhaps he doesn’t want him found,” Chapman said.

Both Chapman and Walsh have been hypercritical of the Laundrie family. Walsh believes Laundrie’s family helped him disappear.

“I absolutely believe that his family is helping him stay on the run,” he said during news special he hosted about Petito’s death.

Although Walsh has ignored Bertolini’s comments (so far), he was outspoken during a press conference held by Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue.

Repeatedly during the news event, Walsh asked the coroner if he thought Laundrie was the killer. Blue never answered the question but Walsh did.

“I think everybody in the world believes that Brian Laundrie killed Gabby,” he said.

Laundrie remains a person of interest in the investigation into the death of Petito, who was found dead in Bridger-Teton National Forest last month.

A warrant has been issued for Laundrie’s arrest by the federal court in Cheyenne. The warrant does not accuse Laundrie of any role in Petito’s death, but accuses of him of unlawfully using a credit card in the days following her disappearance.

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Officials Worried About Wyoming’s Vulnerability to Water Supply Cyberattacks

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

There was a time when the greatest vulnerability to a municipality’s water system was a teenager, drunk, climbing a water tower, opening the hatch and getting rid of his beer, Mark Pepper, executive director of Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems, said.

Then this past January and March, a hacker infiltrated a city’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), which gave them all a wake-up call to the seriousness of cyber threats to the state’s fresh and waste water supplies. 

A wake-up call that has been four years in the making as cyber threats started creeping in a few years ago, and systems have been trying to address these types of issues ever since.  But now, we don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer to really dig in and get systems up to speed, Pepper said.

He won’t comment on which town was potentially hacked only to say that they were able to shut it down before any malfeasance was done to the water supply.

Water Systems Infiltrated

What might have happened? One needs only to turn to a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida, whose alert plant manager diverted a potentially serious threat last February when he saw his cursor moving around on his computer screen, opening various software functions controlling the water treatment.

The manager witnessed several functions being manipulated, including watching the sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye, getting boosted up to 100 times its normal levels, according to the Associated Press (AP) article shared by PEW. The compound, which is also the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners, is used to control acidity and remove metals from drinking water.

Had the hacker been successful, the 15,000 or so residents of the town may very well have been victims of lye poisoning that causes burns, vomiting, severe pain and bleeding.

Luckily, the operator was able to reduce the inflated levels of sodium hydroxide back to normal level once the hacker left his computer. Even if the hacker had succeeded, there were other safeguards in place to keep the water balances in check, the article noted, adding that the public was not actually in risk.

But still.  

For Pepper and others in the field, the hack was enough to get their attention to the potential vulnerabilities in Wyoming’s water and waste treatment facilities.

Experts Paying Attention

Pepper shared these concerns in a recent forum at the CyberWyoming Alliance virtual conference in early October during a conversation with Texas computer network intrusion and detection expert Dr. Gregory White.

In the conversation, the two discussed the inherent vulnerabilities of Wyoming’s water supply networks and the importance of both residents protecting themselves by keeping at least a two-week supply of water on hand as well as the importance of increased cyber and IT training for water plant employees and financial buy-in from the state legislature and government officials.

Wyoming’s rural, relatively unpopulated towns and cities present a unique challenge to the state’s water infrastructure, Pepper noted.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Tom Carper, D – Del, would agree. During his opening comments at a committee meeting on July 21, Carper addressed the growing threat of cyberattacks on the nation’s critical water infrastructure.

“Cyber vulnerabilities in our water systems represent unique national security challenges. A major breach in our water infrastructure system could jeopardize the safety of our drinking water and impair communities’ ability to safely dispose of harmful waste, threatening human health,” he said.

Pepper is well aware of the risks.

780 Public Water Systems in Wyo

Currently, there are 334 community water systems in the state, 96% of which are owned and operated by municipalities with the rest overseen by special districts. In addition to these systems, there are more than 450 non-community water systems that must comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act but do not employ licensed water operators that are mainly guest ranches, dude ranches, bed and breakfasts and camp grounds.

In total, that adds up to around 780 public water systems with only 33 serving populations of 3,300 or greater. The vast majority instead service towns with population of 3,300 or fewer residents with 92 percent serving populations under 500.

This presents an enormous challenge when it comes to getting employees trained and systems updated in keeping with the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 passed by Congress at the end of April by nearly unanimous, bipartisan consent. In part, the new law reauthorizes programs supporting water infrastructure with the goal of providing safe drinking water as well as wastewater facilities. 

In tandem is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that dictates drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants in the interest of public health.

Under SDWA, all public water systems regardless of size are required to have an emergency response plan that should be updated as needed continually.

Wyoming met the timeline for the assessments for systems over 3,300 and is on track to meet the updated ERP requirement, according to Pepper, which dully made it clear that some of the computer systems and level of cyber awareness and training was by modern standards woefully out of date, he said, indicating a need for investment in both the human and technological upgrades in water infrastructure and training.

There’s a significant cost to doing both, Pepper acknowledged, as he and his association continue to encourage that these upgrades are made in the protection of public health.

Five Attempted Hacks So Far

To date, Wyoming has experienced five attempted hacks to its rural water systems. Two of those were the aforementioned attempted infiltrations in the municipality’s SCADA system.

They were interrelated attacks, Pepper said, due to the IT employee’s inability to completely root out the ransomware (albeit, a very sophisticated attack) in the first attack which left a backdoor open to vulnerability which the hacker exploited.

It was an auxiliary computer tied to the main computer system and the FBI and other agencies conducted a forensic investigation, Pepper noted, to which the results are still pending.

The other three infiltrations came through emails to the city clerk and other employees in email phishing scams. Though the water systems were not in direct jeopardy as a result of the attacks, the computer system governing billing and other functions were essentially shut down for a week.

Pepper worries that supply chain phishing scams will be the next scam on a long list given that nefarious individuals will no doubt want to exploit national and international clogs in the supply chain by too-good-to-be-true discounts on chemicals and PVC pipe already in short supply.

The biggest vulnerabilities, however, from a chemical standpoint are that hackers will be able to get into these systems and manipulate the legal limits of chemicals for disinfection and a myriad of other chemicals used to treat source water into drinking water which could lead to serious public health outbreaks.

Many of these attacks, he believes aren’t even targeted.

“I think a lot of hackers don’t know the effect but are sitting around drinking beer in a foreign country or wherever they are and get a hit and just start playing around to see what they can do,” he said. “In some respects, they are seeing what they can manipulate and what control systems are hackable.”

He doesn’t think that they’ve had any of their systems specifically targeted or whether the attacks that have happened are malicious intent. He just doesn’t know.

Scary Stuff

What he does know, however, is the seriousness of what such a hack can do to Wyoming’s vital water and waste treatment operations.

“If someone wanted to overdose chlorine to the point that a person filled up a glass and drank it, it could kill someone,” he said, “or a small community could drop dead of chlorine gas if they all turned on their faucets at the same time or had a release from the plant.”

On a positive note, they have partnered with expert IT people to provide training to water treatment plant managers and operators which is a great start, he said.

“The key is to get people trained and aware,” he said. “Training people to recognize what is happening and how to prevent problems and fix them and to also be aware of phishing email scams and to have enough awareness to know who to call when an issue arises.”

The latter proves vital in small, rural communities where the city government is tied to everything in town and where one contaminated computer system can have a larger reaching impact both on IT systems and facilities.

More importantly, he said, is raising awareness and convincing local and state government to make the investments in keeping their water supply and treatment plants safe.

Paying For Security

There seems to be a big disconnect on the cost of water, which for whatever reasons, raise the hackles of tax payers. That and potholes, he noted. He hears every day from Wyoming residents who complain about the cost of their water bill, and even watched a local mayoral candidate campaign solely on the promise of cutting water costs to the town.

“If people can flush a toilet or turn on the faucet that they are happy,” Pepper said. “They don’t care how it got there or what it cost to treat it. People will say that water should be free but will think nothing about going down to the local 7-11 and paying $1.69 for a 12-ounce bottle of water, which is not as regulated as tap water by the way.”

Yes, water might be “free,” he noted, but it costs a lot to treat it and deliver it to residents.

In the meantime, he’s focused as he says to crying to whoever will listen about the potential vulnerabilities in the state’s water systems.

Apart from paying a hefty ransom to unlock a computer system, the worst-case scenario involves potential doses of chemicals that make water deadly or cause serious public health risks due to contaminants in the disinfection process that might affect water quantity when pumps are shut off or water flow is impacted, allowing deadly bacteria to build. Only a fraction of Wyoming municipalities is currently able to manually operate their systems in the case of power being shut off.

Worst case scenarios are these effects to water quality or quantity that create potential public health risks on a small or massive scale.

“That’s my number one fear,” he said. “Number two would be ransomware shutting down the system that prevent us from operating or delivering water.”

The most recent hack was an eye opener for him and others, he said.

“The criminals are always one step ahead of figuring out the next scam.”

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How A Handcuffed Florida Man Stole A Police Car In Rawlins

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It may seem extraordinary that someone wearing handcuffs could slip through the partition in a police car and then steal the vehicle.

But it actually did happen last week in Rawlins, as Cowboy State Daily reported, and now photos show just how extraordinary the feat was.

It’s Houdini-level impressive.



One Cowboy State Daily reader asked if the suspect was 13 pounds. That’s a good question.

He was not. But Mira Miller, Community Relations Coordinator for the City of Rawlins, said Florida man James Estes is 140 pounds.

That’s small enough, apparently, where he slid his handcuffed arms from the back to the front of his body and then squirmed his way through the partition. Then he took off in the police car and drove it for 70 miles before wrecking the vehicle.

To demonstrate the size of the partition, the City of Rawlins sent Cowboy State Daily some photos which show it’s some real cramped space.


The opening is only 12 inches by 12 inches.

In more photos, Rawlins Chief of Police Michael Ward demonstrated there’s not much room there. He can get his head through it but that’s it.



Somehow — and in true Florida Man fashion — Estes pulled off the Houdini-like escape.

But it lasted less than an hour as he crashed the vehicle about 70 miles later and then tried to escape again on foot. Seconds later, he was tackled and arrested once again but this time with many, many more charges.

He is now a guest of the Sweetwater County Detention Center facing charges of:

  • Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Police Officers (WARRANT LONG FORM)
  • Escape from Official Detention
  • Reckless Driving 
  • Driving While License Cancelled, Suspended or Revoked – 2nd+ Offense 
  • Unlawful Possession – Powder or Crystalline < 3 Grams- 1st Offense
  • Vehicle Registration – Valid Title, Registration, Plates or Permits
  • Failure to Maintain Liability Coverage 
  • Arrest and Hold Order/PC Arrest for Probation/Parole Violation 
  • Unauthorized Use of Vehicles 

To the surprise of no one, bond is not being offered. Presumably because he may be viewed as a flight risk.

Sadly, calls to the Sweetwater County Detention Centers were not returned.

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Three Men Found Guilty For Defrauding Investors In Wyoming Natural Gas Schemes

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Three men were found guilty by a federal jury in Cheyenne this week stemming from two schemes to defraud investors in Wyoming and elsewhere in the United States.

Justin Herman, 50, of Pennsylvania and Charles Winters Jr., 61, of Florida were convicted of fraud and identity theft crimes. Ian Horn, 67, of Florida was acquitted of the charged fraud crimes, but convicted of making a false statement to the grand jury.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Herman and Winters conspired with  Robert “Bob” Mitchell, who pleaded guilty earlier this year, to “pump and dump” NuTech Energy Resources Inc. stock.

A “pump and dump” scheme is a form of securities fraud where the conspirators manipulate demand for a stock and the stock’s price, and then sell their worthless shares of the stock to the public at the artificially high price.

In this case, the conspirators bought control of a publicly traded shell company called EcoEmissions Solutions Inc. and changed the company’s name to NuTech Energy Resources, whose stock was sold under the ticker symbol NERG.

The conspirators released information online to create a false image for NuTech as a company located in Gillette that was operating gas wells in Wyoming using a patented technology. In reality, NuTech had no business, no revenue and no paid employees in Wyoming or elsewhere.  

As part of the conspiracy, Herman and Winters used altered, backdated and forged documents to acquire 13 billion free-trading shares of NuTech common stock.

The conspirators then artificially inflated the market price of NuTech common stock by manipulative trading and releasing to the public false and misleading information about NuTech’s business prospects.

When the market price increased based on this false information, the conspirators turned around and sold their worthless NuTech shares to unwitting investors in the public market, including people in Wyoming and around the world. 

According to the indictment, more than $1.3 million was stolen from about three dozen investors, most of whome lived in and around Gillette.

Horn is a Florida-licensed attorney. As part of the investigation, he was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury in January 2019 because his name appeared on documents related to NuTech and because the money used by Mitchell and Herman to buy control of EcoEmissions was transferred through Horn’s bank accounts.

The jury found that Horn lied during his grand jury testimony about NuTech-related email communications that he falsely claimed he lost and could not access despite having access to his email and was forwarding relevant messages to Herman in December 2018.  

Herman and Winters were each found guilty of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and multiple counts of aggravated identity theft.

Herman faces a mandatory two-year prison sentence and could be sentenced to a maximum of 53 years in prison.

Winters also faces a mandatory two-year prison sentence and could be sentenced to a  maximum of 49 years in prison.

Horn was found guilty of making a false statement to the grand  jury and could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced  on Jan. 5, 2022.  

Mitchell is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday and could be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison.  

“These convictions are the direct result of a diligent investigation by a hardworking Postal  Inspector and our partners at the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming,” said Ruth Mendonça, Inspector in Charge of the Denver Division, which includes Wyoming. “Working together, their perseverance unraveled the  defendants’ complex scheme to defraud over 2,300 victims and delivered the justice that each  victim deserved. We are proud of the efforts to uphold the mission of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to protect postal customers and consumers from fraudsters.”

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Wyoming Man Who Shot Other Man Over Song On Radio Pleads Guilty

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man accused of shooting another over a song on the radio in a pickup truck changed his plea to guilty this week.

Ronald Blaise Jenkins, 25, pleaded guilty to using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence this week. He will be sentenced on Dec. 20.

Jenkins was initially charged in May in U.S. District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon and assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

According to an affidavit filed by Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Michael Shockley, his investigation into the shooting of a man identified only as “W.S.” revealed that the shooting occurred as the result of a disagreement over a song on the radio while he and Jenkins were in a truck.

W.S. had been riding in a pickup truck with three other men, including Jenkins, drinking alcohol and listening to music on the radio.

Two of the men in the truck said W.S. and Jenkins began arguing about a song on the radio and then prepared to fight over the issue.

At that point, Jenkins shot W.S. over the argument.

Jenkins told investigators W.S. had played a song on the radio he did not like and the two began arguing.

He said W.S. got out of the back seat of the pickup truck, opened the door to the seat where Jenkins was sitting and punched him in the face.

Jenkins said he had broken his neck several years earlier and the attack made him afraid for his life. He said he found a gun on the floor of the pickup truck and was pointing it at W.S. when “it just went off.”

W.S., meanwhile, told investigators he did not remember what the argument was about, but that both he and Jenkins got out of the truck and were preparing to fight when Jenkins pulled a pistol out.

The victim said he charged Jenkins in an attempt to take the pistol away from him, but was unsuccessful and Jenkins fired.

The affidavit said W.S. was helped into the emergency room at SageWest Hospital in Riverton by two men who left him there.

The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wind River Police Department,  with assistance from the Riverton Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Kerry J.  Jacobson prosecuted the case.

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Coroner: Gabby Petito Died By Strangulation, Body Left In Woods For Weeks

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gabby Petito died by strangulation and her body was left in Bridger-Teton National Park for three to four weeks before police found her, the Teton County coroner announced on Tuesday.

Dr. Brent Blue held a news conference to announce the manner and cause of death for Petito, whose body was found in the woods almost one month ago. Her death was ruled a homicide not long after she was found, but Blue officially announced the cause this week.

He could not reveal much information about how his office determined the manner of death or how they knew Petito had been in the woods for as long as she had, due to a Wyoming state statute. He also could not say whether Petito was killed in the woods and left there or if she had been killed elsewhere and her body was left in the park.

Blue also could not reveal an approximate date of death, but confirmed Petito’s remains have been released to a local mortuary, which will work with her family to return her to them.

Petito’s fiance, Brian Laundrie, is a person of interest in the investigation into her death, but has been missing since Sept. 17.

John Walsh, former host of “America’s Most Wanted,” questioned Blue about his thoughts on whether or not Laundrie was Petito’s killer.

“I think everybody in the world believes that Brian Laundrie killed Gabby,” he said.

Blue could not attest to who killed Petito, and continued to affirm her manner and cause of death only.

One reporter questioned Blue about why it took so long to get the autopsy results.

“The reason was that we were very exacting on our examination and the detail by which the examination was done,” Blue said. “It was just a matter of making sure we had everything right.”

Blue also confirmed that law enforcement took DNA samples from Petito’s remains.

Petito and Laundrie had been traveling the country in a van. On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his home in Florida with the fan and without Petito. She was reported missing on Sept. 11.

A warrant has been issued for Laundrie’s arrest by the federal court in Cheyenne. The warrant does not accuse Laundrie of any role in Petito’s death, but accuses of him of unlawfully using a credit card in the days following her disappearance.

Police from various departments are searching for Laundrie. The case has also attracted national attention, meaning that the FBI and even reality star Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman have gotten involved in the search for Laundrie.

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Driver Abandons Car After Smashing Into Building; Leaves Wallet & Driver’s License in Vehicle

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

If there were a criminals’ handbook, you would think there could be a section on covering your tracks after committing a crime.

Sadly, for one individual in Cheyenne, there is no such handbook.

A yet-to-be-identified driver plowed into a Cheyenne building on Monday night and abandoned the vehicle. The only problem with that strategy is a wallet was left behind containing a drivers’ license.

The Cheyenne Police Department brought up the hit and run on Facebook Tuesday morning noting the presence of identification in the vehicle which was firmly ensconced in Needs, Inc., a Cheyenne food pantry.

“To the woman who felt compelled to donate her Subaru to Needs, inc. shortly after midnight, they’re no longer taking vehicle donations,” the department wrote.

“However, we do have your wallet and ID so feel free to come on back over and we can help you put together some of these puzzles you knocked off the shelves,” the post said.

The nonprofit organization seemed to take the collision in stride despite having to close down for the foreseeable future.

“Please remember our donation hours are Monday & Tuesday 8:30am-6pm and Wednesday & Thursday 8:30am-4pm. Unfortunately, we do not accept cars. We are truly grateful for the support of the Cheyenne Police Department,” the post read.

Of course, it could have been an elaborate set-up where someone stole the car and planted the ID. But that’s for the sleuths at the police department to figure out.

Needs, Inc. is the largest food pantry in Laramie County. The organization clothed more than 3,300 people in 2020.

By 5 a.m. Tuesday, Needs boards members and some other volunteers came out to the building to help clean up and board up the broken window.

Around $130 had been raised for Needs as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Anyone who saw the crash or has information about the driver’s whereabouts is encouraged to contact the police department at jmaule@cheyennepd.org.

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Drunk, Meth-Using Montana Man Gets Prison For Multi-Stolen Vehicle High Speed Chases, Crashes

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A Montana man who traveled to Park County in a stolen truck and then led police on a high-speed chase in another stolen vehicle is headed to prison.

In Park County District Court last week, 27-year-old Garrett Bailey pleaded guilty to a felony count of theft and accepted a five- to seven-year prison sentence for his actions last winter.

The sentence, which was the result of a plea deal, also calls for Bailey to pay more than $7,000 to cover the damage he did to the two stolen vehicles and to repair a Wyoming Highway Patrol vehicle damaged in February’s pursuit.

“I would like to give an apology to the victims for damages caused, any trouble caused, as well as anybody potentially put in danger,” Bailey told District Court Judge Bill Simpson.

Authorities say Bailey arrived in Park County around Feb. 21, driving a 2004 Ford Ranger he’d stolen from Harding County, New Mexico. He told Powell police he’d intended to take the vehicle back to his home in Butte, Montana, but he got stuck in a snowdrift on Wyo. Highway 294 outside Ralston. Bailey abandoned the truck and, a couple days later, stole a 2015 Ford Edge that had been left running in the Blair’s Super Market parking lot.

The owner quickly alerted authorities, who spotted Bailey driving the vehicle outside of Cody. Officers attempted to pull him over on Beacon Hill Road, but Bailey fled, starting a high-speed pursuit that would stretch miles south of Cody on Wyo. Highway 120. According to an affidavit from Trooper Randall Davis, Bailey reached speeds of up to 125 mph on the highway.

Bailey later turned into the Oregon Basin area and Davis “missed the turn and slid off into the borrow ditch and snow, getting the patrol vehicle stuck.” The trooper’s vehicle sustained $3,109 of damage.

Bailey later came racing out of Oregon Basin and attempted to continue his flight, but he was thwarted by a set of spike strips deployed by Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Allen Cooper. Two of the tires deflated and, after driving on rims for a couple miles, Bailey pulled over.

He tried pretending that he wasn’t the driver, stripping down to his long johns and concocting a story in which he’d been kidnapped in Powell by a man in a dark mask. But Powell Police Investigator Chris Wallace didn’t buy it — for one thing, he obtained surveillance footage that showed Bailey stealing the Ford Edge from Blair’s — and Bailey fessed up, charging documents say.

At the time of his arrest, Bailey failed sobriety tests and he told police he’d been drinking and had used both meth and marijuana earlier in the day. A DUI charge, plus two other misdemeanor counts and two additional felonies were dismissed by the Park County Attorney’s Office as part of the deal.

Bailey agreed to plead guilty, but wavered during the Sept. 29 hearing, asking Judge Simpson if he could plead no contest instead. At the judge’s suggestion, Bailey did plead guilty, but without testifying about his actions.

He was also ordered to pay $1,077.91 for the damage caused to the Ford Edge stolen from Blair’s and $2,864.08 to the Harding County, New Mexico, government for the damage he did to their Ford Ranger.

Bailey’s defense attorney, Tim Blatt, said the payment will resolve the New Mexico case.

“They’ve indicated that, pursuant to the action … taken by Park County, they do not plan on filing any charges down in Harding County, New Mexico, and are going to be satisfied with the restitution they received from this particular case,” Blatt said.

Judge Simpson questioned whether any of the victims had already been compensated by their insurance companies, “because we want to make sure that there is no double payment.”

However, Deputy Park County Attorney Jack Hatfield noted the Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled that it’s irrelevant whether a victim has been made whole by their insurer; the court has held multiple times that double payment is an issue for a victim and an insurer to work out, saying in a 2020 ruling that it would be “absurd” for a defendant to owe nothing for the damage they caused. Hatfield did agree, however, that the insurance payments were relevant as to which victim should be paid first.

The judge asked Bailey to pay at least 25% of whatever income he earns in prison to his court fines and then his restitution, though it’s unlikely that income will be significant.

The roughly seven months that Bailey has served in the Park County Detention Center since his Feb. 23 arrest will count toward his prison sentence — and he also will likely receive a reduction for good behavior both in jail and in prison.

The hearing slowed after Bailey asked whether he’d receive a reduction, known as “good time,” for the 219 days he’d spent in custody in Cody. Simpson suggested the judgment and sentence document should include that figure.

“It would be most helpful to have that number,” Simpson said, who expressed frustration that the plea agreement and other details hadn’t been submitted in advance of the hearing. The judge apologized to Bailey about “these loose ends that are coming up.”

However, Hatfield said it’s up to the Department of Corrections to calculate good time, Blatt agreed and the hearing moved on.

As of Wednesday, Bailey remained in the Cody jail, awaiting transport to prison. Simpson said the defendant would likely be assigned to a medium security facility in Newcastle.

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Woman Gets Jail Time For Getting Too Close to Grizzly Bears

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Illinois woman who was caught on video getting too close to grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park earlier this year received four days in jail as punishment this week.

Samantha R. Dehring, 25, pleaded guilty to willfully remaining, approaching, and photographing wildlife within 100 yards. The other count, feeding, touching, teasing, frightening or intentionally disturbing wildlife, was dismissed.

Dehring appeared in front of Magistrate Judge Mark L. Carman in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming on Wednesday for her change of plea and sentencing hearing.

She was sentenced to four days in custody, one-year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, a $1,000 community service payment to the Yellowstone Forever Wildlife Protection Fund, a $30 court processing fee and a $10 assessment.

Dehring also received a one-year ban from Yellowstone National Park.  

According to the violation notices, Dehring was at Roaring Mountain in Yellowstone National Park on May 10, when visitors noticed a sow grizzly and her three cubs.

While other visitors slowly backed off and got into their vehicles, Dehring remained. She continued to take pictures as the sow bluff charged her.  

“Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park are, indeed, wild. The park is not a zoo where animals  can be viewed within the safety of a fenced enclosure. They roam freely in their natural habitat  and when threatened will react accordingly,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray.  “Approaching a sow grizzly with cubs is absolutely foolish. Here, pure luck is why Dehring is a  criminal defendant and not a mauled tourist.” 

According to the National Park Service, a bluff charge is the more common type of charge and is meant to scare or intimidate. If a bluff charge is about to happen, a person is supposed to slowly back away from the bear while waving their arms above their head and speaking to the bear in a calm voice.

People should not run when a bear bluff charges, because it may trigger the animal to attack.

According to Yellowstone National Park regulations, when an animal is near a trail, boardwalk, parking lot, or in a developed area, give it space. Stay 25 yards away from all large animals – bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves.

If need be, turn around and go the other way to avoid interacting with a wild animal in close proximity.

This case was investigated by Yellowstone National Park Rangers and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Hambrick.

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Man Faces Life In Prison For Kidnapping Another Man In Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man is facing life in prison for holding another man at knifepoint in Yellowstone National Park last week.

Gregory Michael Samuel Toth was charged this week in federal court with assault with a dangerous weapon and kidnapping, both felonies. The kidnapping charge comes with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

He was also charged with: misappropriation of property, possession of marijuana, driving under the influence and having an open container of an alcoholic beverage.

In total, Toth faces up to life in prison, up to $520,000 in fines, up to five years of supervised release and $240 in special assessment fees.

According to court documents, around 6:20 a.m. on Oct. 1, law enforcement officers were dispatched by Yellowstone staff for a report of an assault. The victim called dispatch from the Fishing Bridge RV Park (where the assault occurred), and was told to drive to the West Thumb Junction along the Grand Loop Road.

The victim, who was with a co-worker, was worried the assailant (later identified as Toth) was following them and would confront them before law enforcement arrived on the scene.

Park ranger Jill Paxton arrived the on the scene and met with the victim and his co-worker. The victim told the ranger that he had known Toth for about 32 years and that Toth had recently been released from prison for assaulting and kidnapping an ex-girlfriend.

The victim had vouched for Toth to get a job at Triple A Construction Company and the two men shared a trailer at the RV park in Yellowstone.

The victim noted that Toth was normally talkative, but on the afternoon of Sept. 30, he’d become quiet and was watching the victim “unusually” close. When the victim would ask Toth questions, he would reply with one-word answers, which was abnormal.

That evening, the victim and another co-worker drove to Cody to go to the Walmart there. While at the store, Toth called the victim and began to accuse him of sleeping with Toth’s ex-girlfriend.

Toth told the victim that he knew where he was and that he would come to Cody to “find the car and deal with [them] properly.”

As the victim and his co-worker drove home, they encountered Toth parked in a travel lane going toward Cody with his bright headlights on. The victim and his co-worker avoided the truck and drove back to the trailer at a high rate of speed to avoid Toth.

The victim got home and fell asleep. He was awoken around 5:20 a.m. to Toth calling his cell phone. The victim did not answer, but soon after hear someone banging on the door of the trailer. This alternated with Toth calling the victim’s phone.

As the victim went to open the door of the trailer, Toth pushed on the door and rushed into the building. Toth threw the victim down to the ground and wrapped his hands around the man’s neck, choking him.

While doing this, Toth took out a knife and pressed it against the victim’s neck and told him he would kill him “for what [the victim’s] done.” Toth did this several times, calling the victim a liar and saying he knew the truth, meaning that he knew the victim was sleeping with Toth’s ex-girlfriend.

It should be noted that the victim said he has never met Toth’s ex-girlfriend.

After a few minutes, Toth let the victim up and made him sit in the victim’s room and said “Don’t worry, I’ll give you a chance before I kill you. I’ll let you try and fight me, then I’ll shoot you in the head.”

Toth went through an old phone of the victim’s to find evidence of a relationship between him and the ex-girlfriend, but was unable to do so. He then accused the victim of deleting all messages between him and the ex-girlfriend.

The victim said Toth drank a large amount of vodka that night and that he used marijuana. He noted that Toth’s most recent arrest included a charge for methamphetamine, but couldn’t say whether or not he had taken any of that drug that night.

Toth also accused everyone at their construction company with helping the victim to cover up the relationship between him and the ex-girlfriend.

Toth began grabbing items belonging to the victim and an old roommate, telling the victim to get into Toth’s truck.

Once allowed outside of the trailer, the victim ran toward a co-worker who was driving to work at Old Faithful. The co-worker did not see Toth, but confirmed the victim told him he’d been strangled and that Toth threatened to kill him.

During this time, other park rangers located Toth, who was driving his truck in the RV park. He was detained around 8 a.m., but tried to tell police that he saw his “girl’s” number in the victim’s phone and that he did not hurt the victim, but that the two had an argument.

He also said he did not hold the victim at knifepoint, but affirmed he pushed the victim onto the couch. He insisted he did not hold a knife to the victim or choke him.

While talking with law enforcement, Toth did admit to probably being guilty of battery, but that he didn’t go to an extreme.

“It’s my bad,” he told police.

Toth consented to a blood draw, but told police that his blood would be “hot” and that he had “used dope,” but did not specify as to what that meant. Police could smell alcohol on Toth’s breath and noted his eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

Police later found three marijuana joints on Toth’s person.

While searching his truck, police found a black folding knife that matched the victim’s description, a nearly empty vodka bottle and a metal baton.

The co-worker that took the victim to Walmart the night prior overhead a conversation between the two men in which the victim asked Toth why he was behaving in such a strange way