NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, Jan. 20, 2020

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Man convicted in one of Wyoming's largest meth seizures

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A man who was arrested and charged with dealing methamphetamine in Laramie County was found guilty Friday after a five-day jury trial in the Casper federal courthouse.

Arnold Devonne Butler was charged federally with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $10 million fine. He was also later charged in a superseding indictment in a conspiracy with intent to distribute illegal narcotics.

Based on collaborative investigative efforts dating back to May 2019, Butler was later additionally charged when a search warrant was executed in California that found nearly 100 pounds of methamphetamine and other narcotics.

DEA Resident Agent in Charge David Tyree of the Cheyenne Resident Office said he believes this to be one of the largest methamphetamine seizures in Wyoming. 

According to court documents:

On May 14, 2019, a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer was traveling eastbound on Interstate 80 in Laramie County. During his patrol, he noticed a truck without a U.S. Department of Transportation number posted on it.

In addition, the car that was strapped to the flatbed of the truck had straps that were loose and fraying. 

A drug detection K9 was later called to the scene and alerted officers that it detected narcotics. When officers searched the vehicle, they found 41 packages of suspected methamphetamine, two packages of suspected heroin, two packages of suspected cocaine and one package of an unknown substance. This totaled more than 50 pounds of narcotics that were seized.


Murder trial set for man charged in child’s death

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — The first-degree murder trial for Christopher James Nielsen has been set for June 1, 2020.

A first-degree murder charge was filed against Nielsen after a 5-year-old Green River boy died Nov. 28, 2019, from injuries allegedly received while in his care. Nielsen pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Third District Court on Jan. 10.

The case was bound over to district court when Nielsen waived his right to a preliminary hearing in Sweetwater County Circuit Court in an order dated Dec. 27, 2019.

His bond is set at $1 million, and Nielsen remains in custody at the Sweetwater County Detention Center. An order modifying bond conditions states that Nielsen may have contact with his minor daughter by

telephone, video or written correspondence. No physical contact is allowed with his daughter, and Nielsen cannot have any form of contact with any other minor children.

Nielsen was originally arrested Nov. 14, 2019, for alleged aggravated child abuse after the 5-year-old boy he had been babysitting was flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City with life-threatening

injuries. Those charges were dropped and first-degree charges filed after the boy died.

Nielsen had lived in Sweetwater County for a week before the boy was hospitalized. He was staying with Vanessa Kidner, the mother of the boy who died, and her fiance, Stacy Willeitner, in exchange for babysitting Kidner’s two children.


Newcastle superintendent named to UW trustees

CASPER (WNE) — Gov. Mark Gordon appointed the superintendent of the Newcastle-based school district to the University of Wyoming’s governing board last week. 

Brad LaCroix has been the superintendent of Weston County School District No. 1 since 2004, after he was promoted from principal of Newcastle High School, according to a UW press release. LaCroix has been in Newcastle since 1993, when he first became an assistant principal at the high school there. He graduated high school and college in South Dakota. 

In a statement, Gordon said he was excited for LaCroix to join UW’s board of trustees. 

“He brings extensive experience working in Wyoming schools and has a strong grasp of the opportunities and challenges that confront education,” Gordon said in the UW news release. “He also has a deep understanding of our state’s rural communities and their needs, and he recognizes the importance of having better alignment in Wyoming’s education system from K-12 through the university.” 

LaCroix replaces Wava Tully, who resigned from the board in November. Tully was from Lusk and resigned “for family reasons,” board chairman Dave True told the Branding Iron. LaCroix will serve out the remainder of Tully’s term, which will run until 2025. 


Accomplices named in judge’s drug delivery case

RIVERTON (WNE) — Authorities have identified the alleged accomplices of former Wind River Tribal Court Chief Judge Terri Smith, who resigned her post last spring after she was indicted for drug delivery. 

Smith pleaded guilty to Oxycodone and cocaine delivery in August. She is due to be sentenced in federal court next month. 

Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent Michael Phillips spoke with Smith on Sept. 4 about her past dealings with Nikita Ann Addison, Johnny Junior Trujillo, and Maria Smith, of Fremont County. Smith, who had been released on bond for roughly six months at that time, listed several Oxycodone exchanges with the three defendants.

Thirty-two year-old Nikita Ann Addison has been charged on two counts of Oxycodone delivery, the second of which claims she obtained the pills from 60-year-old Cynthia Murray and sold them to Smith. 

Smith told Phillips that she started buying Murray's prescription Oxycodone pills through Addison in 2017, before she developed an arrangement with Murray on her own. 

39-year-old Johnny Junior Trujillo was identified by Smith and others as a deliverer of Oxycodone, and now faces 80 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. 

Smith told Phillips she bought Percocet and Oxycodone from Trujillo in Lander from 2015 to 2016, roughly three or four times, buying about nine pills each time. 

Another reported accomplice of Smith's now facing charges in district court is 39-year-old Maria L. Smith, who is accused of delivering Oxycodone to Terri Smith and others, as well as methamphetamine to unnamed recipients. 


Bighorn Forest welcomes acting supervisor

SHERIDAN (WNE) — The Bighorn National Forest will welcome Erin Phelps as the acting forest supervisor Jan. 27. Phelps comes to the Bighorn National Forest from the Payette National Forest, where she serves as the district ranger in New Meadows, Idaho.

Phelps began her federal career in wildland fire with the Boise Bureau of Land Management, then with the U.S. Forest Service on interagency hotshot crews in Arizona. In 2010, she transitioned into environmental planning, and also served as the U.S. Forest Service project manager for the innovative Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, a large initiative funded in large part by the citizens of Flagstaff to pay for wildfire hazard reduction treatments on the national forest adjacent to the city.

Prior to her district ranger position in Idaho, she was the Ninemile District Ranger on the Lolo National Forest in Montana.

“I have a high level of respect for the land and natural resources of the Bighorn National Forest and for the people whose livelihoods and lifestyles depend on these resources,” Phelps said in a press release. “I look forward to learning from and serving the communities around the forest.”

In the coming months, Phelps will focus on connecting with local communities and working with the broad array of user groups and constituents in the area.

Phelps will serve as the acting forest supervisor for approximately four months, while Andrew Johnson, the Bighorn forest supervisor, is temporarily filling in as the forest supervisor on the Black Hills National Forest.