NEWS BRIEFS for Friday, July 24, 2020

Man pleads not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness 

CHEYENNE (WNE) - A man accused of murdering his 80-year-old mother pleaded not guilty Thursday morning in Laramie County District Court.

James Brian Wallace pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness to first-degree murder after he was found to be competent to proceed in his case following more than a year of mental competency restoration proceedings.

Defense attorney Brandon Booth said officials at the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston expressed concerns about Wallace remaining competent if he were to stay in the jail. He requested that Wallace stay at the state hospital during his evaluation for his not guilty by reason of mental illness plea.

According to court documents:

Laramie County Sheriff's deputies were dispatched to the 1100 block of Green Mountain Road, northwest of Cheyenne, for a possible weapons assault at 7:30 a.m. May 10, 2019.

A man called to report his brother, James Wallace, was "high on meth and freaking out, said he hit his mother with a hammer." When deputies arrived on scene, they discovered Carol Wallace's body face down in the basement.

During an autopsy, pathologists said Carol Wallace suffered blunt force trauma to the head and chest, a gunshot wound to the head and a cutting wound on the chest. Pathologists also identified what they believed to be several defensible wounds on one of Carol Wallace's hands, caused by a sharp object.

After being taken into custody, detectives reported James Wallace was mumbling to himself about "robots and other things." During his mumbling, he said, "What was I do ... thinking? Yo mom, boom," and began to cry.

James Wallace told detectives he didn't kill his mother, but later pointed to himself and said, "I'm the one who killed the mother.”


Northern  Wyoming Community College adds two online degrees

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Northern Wyoming Community College District added two degree programs to its list of completely online programs July 16. Starting in the fall, an Associate of Science in health science and an Associate of Arts in human services will be available to students online. 

NWCCD President Walt Tribley said the process of adding the degrees wasn’t accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the two program additions are increasingly applicable. 

These degrees, which will still be available in-person, are in high demand and applicable to a wide variety of career paths, according to NWCCD Vice President of Academic Affairs Estella Castillo-Garrison.

“Both of these programs provide solid educational foundations for students,” Castillo-Garrison said in a press release. “Through our strong partnerships with several four-year universities, both degrees transfer easily and prepare students to be successful within a wide range of in-demand career options.”

The health science degree provides a broad general education and an introduction to a variety of health care-related courses.

The human services degree offers four areas of concentration and is appropriate for those interested in employment at day-care centers, mental health centers, school systems, adult care facilities and substance abuse centers, or facilities for the developmentally disabled or any mental health service or organization. It is also transferable to bachelor’s degree programs.  

“Both of the degrees are very relevant to responding to community needs during COVID-19,” Tribley said. 

With the addition of Health Science and Human Services, NWCCD now offers seven associate degrees and two certificate programs completely online.


Pinedale man's ‘habitual offender’ status removed

PINEDALE (WNE) —  A former Pinedale man charged with a June 2018 aggravated assault and battery reached a plea agreement this month to avoid a possible life sentence as a habitual offender with three past felony convictions. 

Stephen L. Ralston had been living in Florida since the confrontation when he struck a man twice with an ax and was brought to Sublette County where he appeared in Circuit Court on April 2. 

His case was bound over to 9th District Court, where on April 30 Ralston pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault. 

Judge Marv Tyler informed Ralston that due to three previous separate felony convictions in 2014, the Sublette County Attorney’s Office had enhanced the aggravated assault charge to classify Ralston as a “habitual offender.” 

A witness said Robert "Rusty" Wilsey had arrived at Ralston’s and began “talking trash” to him. He argued with Wilsey and struck him in the head and back with the ax while people were gathered for a bonfire, according to an affidavit from Detective Sgt. Toby Terrell. 

Judge Tyler set Ralston’s bond at $25,000 cash. 

In a plea agreement, Ralston pleaded guilty on July 2 to aggravated assault; the prosecution would not pursue the habitual offender enhancement and both sides were left free to argue any legal sentence at hearing. 

Judge Tyler sentenced Ralston to four to nine years in Wyoming Department of Corrections, not suspended, with 112 days credit for pre-sentence confinement and most fees waived. 

During Ralston’s court proceedings, he was ordered to have no contact with Wilsey – who was arrested on drug-related charges and in jail at the same time; they were kept in separate areas. 


Three-car crash on Highway 390 sends four to hospital

JACKSON (WNE) — Three cars piled up on Highway 390 on Thursday in an accident that involved 15 people, disabled three cars and sent four people to the hospital, where they were treated and released.

Adam Johnson, the investigating Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper who responded to the crash, which occurred just north of the Aspens, said it was one of a few big accidents he has seen in recent weeks.

The accident happened around noon Thursday, slowing traffic in both directions on 390, which is also known as Moose-Wilson Road and, colloquially, as the Village Road. The wrecks were largely cleared up by 2 p.m., when traffic resumed moving at a more or less normal pace.

Johnson, as well as a person involved in the crash and passersby, said the accident occurred when a northbound black Honda Pilot came up behind a northbound gray Subaru Forester that was preparing to make a left off of 390 onto North Teewinot Road. The Honda reportedly failed to stop and crashed into the back of the Subaru, which lurched into the southbound lane and into the side of a Chevrolet van.

The Subaru’s driver, one person from the Honda and two people from the Chevy were transported to St. John’s Health.

Johnson said it seemed like the injured people had suffered “concussions and lacerations and that sort of thing.”

“That’s just a lot of things we’re seeing this time of year,” Johnson said. “People are enjoying the beautiful scenery our state has to offer and not focusing on the driving part.”