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Wyoming Supreme Court

Wyoming Supreme Court Rules Man’s Parental Rights Improperly Terminated

in News/Wyoming Supreme Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man who had not seen his newborn daughter within the first three years of her life was improperly denied a chance to argue against the termination of his parental rights, Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Justices unanimously ruled that Cody John Niland should have been given a chance to argue in court that the termination of his parental rights would not be in the best interests of his daughter.

“Mr. Niland has a protected interest in his right to parent … and that interest was affected ‘in an impermissible way,’” the opinion said. “The termination of Mr. Niland’s parental rights before he had the opportunity to … present evidence or to examine, explain or rebut evidence … was a ‘denial of fundamental fairness’ guaranteed by Wyoming law.”

Justices ordered that Niland be allowed to present arguments in the case.

The ruling stems from the efforts of the state Department of Family Services to terminate Niland’s parental rights over his daughter, identified only as NRAE.

According to the opinion, the girl was born in 2016 and both she and her mother tested positive for methamphetamine. The mother was arrested for child endangerment and the child was placed in foster care.

The mother identified Niland as the child’s father and the department tried to find him, the opinion said.

“The department struggled to find Mr. Niland — sometimes he was homeless, other times he was incarcerated,” the opinion said.

Genetic testing in October 2018 showed Niland to be the father and in December 2018, he expressed an interest in having his daughter placed in his custody.

At the same time, rehabilitation efforts for the girl’s mother were unsuccessful, so the DFS sought to have the parental rights of both the mother and Niland terminated so the child could be adopted.

The DFS argued that the legal requirements for termination of parental rights were met including that the child was left in the care of another for at least one year without provision for the child’s support or communication from the absent period. The DFS also argued that the child had been abandoned by her parents.

Niland argued against termination, saying he did not know the girl was his daughter until the genetic testing was completed more than one year after her birth. He also said he had not been given an opportunity to show he could financially support his daughter.

A district court in Laramie County ruled that evidence supported the legal requirements for the termination.

However, under Wyoming law, before the parental rights can be terminated, a finding must also be entered that such a decision would be in the best interests of the child.

The DFS asked the district court for such a determination and the district court granted the request based on evidence submitted earlier and without hearing arguments from Niland. In addition, the decision was made eight days after the DFS’ request, the opinion said, before Niland’s deadline of 20 days to respond to that request.

Justices agreed that while Niland was given an opportunity to argue that the legal requirements for the termination of parental rights were not met, he was not given a chance to argue that the termination of those rights would not be in the child’s best interest.

“Mr. Niland was denied due process when the district court determined the best interests of the child without providing an opportunity for him to be heard,” the ruling said.

Justices ordered that another hearing be held and that Niland be given a chance to to present his case.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Rejects Convicted Killer Gerald Lee Uden’s Appeal

in Crime/News/Wyoming Supreme Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Supreme Court has dismissed the latest appeal of a man who pleaded guilty to killing his ex-wife and two adopted sons in Fremont County.

The court, reviewing the case of convicted murderer Gerald Lee Uden, said it lacked jurisdiction over a lower court’s decision to dismiss Uden’s request to have his record cleared because of his discovery of new evidence.

Uden pleaded guilty in 2013 to three charges of first-degree murder filed in the 1980 murders of his ex-wife Virginia and adopted sons Reagan and Richard.

Uden told investigators he shot the three and then hid their bodies, first in old gold mines in Fremont County and then by putting them in barrels and then sinking the barrels in Fremont Lake.

At about the same time, Uden’s wife at the time of the murders, Alice Uden, was herself convicted of murdering her third husband in the 1970s. Their story was detailed in the book “Alice and Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story” by true crime author Ron Franscell, a former Wyoming newspaper publisher.

The Udens were incarcerated at the same institution — the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington — and Alice Uden died last year. 

After Alice Uden’s death, Gerald Uden began efforts to exonerate himself.

Uden filed a petition with a state district court seeking to have his conviction dismissed under the Wyoming “Factual Innocence Act.” Under the act, if a person convicted of a crime can offer new factual evidence that proves their innocence, the person can be exonerated.

However, the state district court found that Uden only offered transcripts of his trial and guilty plea, not new evidence that might prove his innocence. As a result, the district court dismissed Uden’s request.

Uden appealed the dismissal to the Supreme Court, but a unanimous court ruled since his request was only dismissed and not denied, it has no jurisdiction over the issue.

The Supreme Court said Uden is free to file another request with the district court. As a result, the dismissal is not a final order that can be appealed to the Supreme Court, Justice Lynne Boomgaarden wrote.

“If Mr. Uden could credibly document the existence of newly discovered evidence that establishes a bona fide issue of his factual innocence, he would be free to file a petition that satisfied all of the (Factual Innocence) Act’s requirements,” she wrote. “Anything short of that, however, would again be subject to dismissal following the court’s initial review.”

In a footnote, Boomgaarden wrote that given Uden’s detailed admissions in court, it might be difficult for him to prove his innocence.

“We agree with the district court that it is difficult to imagine how Mr. Uden could credibly assert a bona fide factual innocence claim given his detailed admissions as to how and why he murdered his ex-wife and sons,” the footnote said.

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