NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, March 14, 2019

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Judge to decide whether man’s statements can be used in murder trial

CODY (WNE) — Both prosecution and defense have now provided arguments to District Court Judge Bill Simpson as to why or why not statements Dennis Klingbeil gave to Yellowstone Behavioral Health Center staff, just days after his alleged murder of his wife, should be allowed into the trial.

It’s now up to Simpson to decide what will be allowed into the August jury trial.

“If you leave this to trial we have long drawn out proceedings where the jury … is sitting in the jury room waiting for the waiting proceedings,” Simpson said.

He said at a hearing Friday he will make a decision sometime in the next few weeks on the matter.

Mike Blonigen, a former Natrona County district attorney, was hired to assist with Klingbeil’s prosecution as a special deputy prosecuting attorney. He argued in previously submitted court documents YBHC staff are “professionals working for non-government entities.”

Therefore, he argued, information from the YBHC health assessment was legally obtained by Park County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Andy Magill, who stood by in the room for Klingbeil’s security.

“You can’t discuss a case in an elevator and expect it to remain privilege,” Blonigen said.

YBHC, represented by attorney Tom Keegan of Cody law firm Keegan, Krisjansons & Miles, P.C., is opposed to the information being used and its staff members being called to testify in the case, citing patient/provider privacy laws.

“We’re talking about two private therapists who work for a local non-profit, anything said ... has to be confidential,” Keegan said. “For the purpose of diagnosis and treatment these matters are confidential.”

The defense has also submitted a motion to suppress statements.

Prosecutor reviewing investigation into trench deaths

JACKSON (WNE) — One of two investigations into the trench collapse that killed two men in September was recently completed by the state Department of Workforce Services and is now up to the Teton County Prosecutor’s office to review.

A request by the News&Guide to see a copy of the completed investigation report was denied by Teton County and Prosecuting Attorney Erin Weisman. Per the Wyoming Public Records Act, 16-4-203 (b)(i), the disclosure of public records can be deemed not in the public interest if they are part of an investigation compiled for prosecution purposes.

If a case is filed, court records would be available to the public.

Weisman couldn’t say what criminal charges may be on the table.

“My responsibility to the law and the public demands that I refrain from making any extrajudicial statements so as to avoid the likelihood of any publicity that could prejudice a case,” she wrote in an email.

Two separate incident investigations appear to have occurred simultaneously. One, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation, is still considered ongoing by the Department of Workforce Services. No new information is available.

The other is the Employer Services investigation that the News&Guide first learned of this week and is now on Weisman’s desk. Employer Services investigates things like workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and fraud and is separate from the safety requirements of OSHA.

State Fair endowment gets boost

DOUGLAS — For a Wyoming State Fair that has faced continuous budget issues in recent years, $3.1 million is a very welcome gift. 

At a community meeting Feb. 28, State Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) shared the good news that the state fair endowment will be increasing by more than tenfold. The interest off the endowment will only provide a fraction of the state fair’s funding – the fair receives a budget from the legislature every two years – but it will provide useful operating funds. 

Boner explained that $2 million of the new endowment money comes from the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission. The Pari-Mutuel Commission receives revenue from historic horse racing around the state, which has grown in recent years. Historic horse racing is a kind of gambling where instead of betting on horses live, at the track, you place your bets and watch old races on a screen. 

According to Boner, the state fair endowment will hopefully provide the fair with some insurance against year-to-year financial instability. 

“We decided it’d be a good idea to have a little bit of a cushion, have an additional fund that’d be set aside that we can use the interest from, not be dependent upon the whims of our appropriations committee in the legislature,” he said. “The idea is you take the interest from the account, and that goes to fund the state fair activities,” Boner said. “Right now we’re in growth mode.”

Newcastle council, Weston commissioners eliminate prayers

NEWCASTLE (WNE) — To kick off 2019, both the Newcastle City Council and Weston County commissioners eliminated the invocation, or prayer, before meetings. 

Traditionally, both boards started every meeting with an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance. Since the beginning of the year, both groups have discontinued the prayer that was said by one of their members, citing different reasons. 

“I think it has been going on as long as I’ve been town attorney — so over 30 years,” City Attorney Jim Peck said. “The only invocations I paid attention to were those said by George Butler. He used to say Native American prayers, Buddhist prayers and other invocations that were short prayers from all over the world. They were always interesting.” 

According to Peck and Mayor Deb Piana, the city discontinued the invocation before the meeting to comply with the separation of church and state. Weston County Commission Chairman Tony Barton said that the county discontinued the practice because several commissioners believed the invocation was an outdated tradition that should no longer be continued. 

“The long and short of it is, if you check in bigger cities like Casper, you will see there has been some big issues down there,” Peck said. “The legal position is that you should discontinue the invocation, and the reason is there have been some lawsuits filed about separation of church and state.” 

He noted that it is one of those areas that you can’t foresee being sued, and while it probably wouldn’t happen in Newcastle, the council decided to not take that risk. 

Piana said that it is “kind of a freedom-of-religion-type thing” and that it really comes down to the separation of church and state for her. 

Romanian charged with identity theft

GILLETTE (WNE) — Police believe that a Romanian who was in the country illegally was using a stolen identity to try to buy four cellphones and a tablet for almost $5,000 in Gillette last month.

Petrut Constantin, 24, who listed an address in Lehigh Acres, Florida, has pleaded not guilty in District Court to unauthorized use of personal identifying information, which has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Another Romanian, Elvis Rubin Briceag, 34, also had a preliminary hearing on the same charge, but that charge was dismissed on a technicality “because the circumstances didn’t quite fit the statute,” said Police Detective Christine Winterholler. “We’re working with the county attorney’s office to find a better statute to charge him under.”

The AT&T Store on Boxelder Road called police Feb. 10 when Constantin, Briceag and Briceag’s 14-year-old son allegedly tried to buy seven iPhones and a tablet on credit using Social Security numbers that didn’t belong to them, police said. The numbers they provided came back as belonging to six different people, none of whom were them.

Police asked Constantin if he knew one of the people whose name was connected with the number Constantin provided.

Constantin told police that the man was his cousin or his brother staying in Gillette. Then he said he was a cousin who was in California. Then he later told police that he was his brother, then said he was his cousin and then said he was his best friend presently living in Romania.

Constantin had tried to buy four phones for $5,050 and Briceag had tried to buy three phones and a tablet for $4,500.

Study to look for cause of Carlile water issues

SUNDANCE (WNE) — The ball is now rolling on a water study that will investigate whether or not it is feasible to form a water district on the west side of Crook County with the ultimate goal of hooking on to Gillette’s Madison water system.

The county commissioners applied for the study in September, hoping to discover how many residents in and around the Carlile area could feasibly be served by the Madison water system infrastructure. The study was prompted by a suggestion from Harry Labonde, Director of Wyoming Water Development, as part of the push to help landowners in the area whose wells had suddenly run dry or acidic a year before.

Though Senator Ogden Driskill was able to broker a deal with the City of Gillette in December that would allow landowners to hook onto the system, the county’s application for a water study remained active. The Omnibus Water Bill signed by Governor Mark Gordon last week included $370,000 for the Crook County Rural Water Supply Plan.

“They still don’t know really what happened there,” said Commissioner Jeanne Whalen on Tuesday, explaining to her fellow commissioners that the study may attempt to answer the question of what caused the wells to turn bad, which could be why the money awarded has been increased from the $250,000 that was originally requested.

Whalen stated that five companies have responded to the request for proposals and will be visiting Crook County to gather information and prepare their bids. The bids must be submitted by April, she said, and a contractor while be approved on May 17 to be issued a notice to proceed on June 1.