By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Thermopolis man whose conviction a charge of incest was overturned by the Wyoming Supreme Court was found not guilty of the charge earlier this month, bringing an end to a years-long saga that began in 2014.
Justin N. Spence was found not guilty of incest in a Park County District Court, according to a Hot Springs County District Court clerk. The incidents surrounding the charge allegedly took place in Hot Springs County, where Spence’s first trial was held. The results of that trial were overturned by the Supreme Court, which sent the case back to state district court.
According to court filings, Spence was accused by his then 14-year-old niece of sexual assault in July 2014. According to the victim, she, Spence and his then-girlfriend, now his wife, were at Spence’s in house in Thermopolis on July 4, listening to music and drinking alcoholic beverages.
According to Wyoming Supreme Court documents, the girl testified Spence was went into the bathroom and texted the girl that she was “so hot.” She responded, asking if that text was meant for her or his girlfriend. He confirmed it was for her and then sent her a picture of his penis.
The girl said Spence asked her for a nude photo of herself and although she initially refused, Spence told her that if she did not comply, “something was going to happen.” She went outside and sent him a photo of herself in her bra.
After his girlfriend went to bed, Spence pulled the girl on his lap and kissed her. He also digitally penetrated her that night, she said.
Late that night, the girl joined an 18-year-old man who invited her to his apartment nearby, court documents said. The two drank and had sex, but the girl ultimately returned back to her uncle’s apartment.
In August 2014, the girl told one of her school counselors about the incident with Spence. Law enforcement was quickly notified and two police officers and a Department of Family Services caseworker came to speak with the victim.
In the course of questioning by police, documents said, the girl told them “Uncle Justin tried to do [expletive] with me.”
A week later, Spence was interviewed by police and acknowledged his niece stayed at his home that particular evening, but denied giving her alcohol, asking her for nude photographs or touching her inappropriately.
No charges were brought against Spence at the time.
In a later interview with authorities in 2015, the girl discussed Spence sending a picture of his penis to her, demanding a nude photograph from her and his inappropriate touching of her. She also told police Spence questioned why she had sex with the 18-year-old and not him.
Around eight months later, Spence was charged with incest and ultimately found guilty in Hot Springs District Court, but he appealed the ruling and took the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in 2019 overturned Spence’s conviction, when justices ruled that one of the experts brought forward to testify against him improperly vouched for the credibility of the girl’s testimony through his statements.
Justices found the girl’s credibility was in question during Spence’s trial because of the delays in reporting what happened to her and without the expert’s testimony, Spence “would have enjoyed a more favorable verdict.”