Wyoming news briefs for August 4

Judge won’t let man in shooting withdraw guilty plea

RIVERTON — Having confessed to shooting another man in the head with a rifle, Seth Blackburn will not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

Blackburn, who is about 31 years old, pleaded guilty May 21 to the Aug. 5, 2019 murder of Victor Dale Addison.

The defendant told the court he'd heard bad things about Addison,and also that he suspected Addison as involved in the Aug. 3, 2019, death of Martika Spoonhunter.

She died of what former Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen called "extensive thermal injuries" related to a one-vehicle rollover.

Stratmoen deemed the death an accident.

"Upon confronting Victor," Blackburn told the United States District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl during his change-of-plea hearing, "I took things way too far. I tried to take justice into my own hands, and I went too far, and I shot him in the head."

On July 22, Blackburn filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea and the confession, claiming his former attorney coerced him into pleading.

He also stated that he maintains his innocence despite the confession.

Skavdahl ruled on July 28 that Blackburn may not withdraw his guilty plea. "After Seth Blackburn, in the courtroom and under oath, described killing Victor Addison by deliberately shooting him in the head, the court finds his current assertion of innocence to lack all credibility," wrote Skavdahl.

"He has offered no factual evidence, nor has the court found any in its own review of the case... supporting his claim of actual innocence.”


Harassment prompts health department to take down COVID social media posts

DOUGLAS — Converse County Public Health has taken down its social media posts after its employees were harassed by people on Facebook late last week. 

Converse County Public Health nurse manager Darcey Cowardin said on Friday a handful of out-of-state people made verbally aggressive comments toward employees on Facebook and over the phone concerning COVID-19 updates it made in the past couple weeks. 

“Within five minutes our Facebook page was flooded,” she said, adding that the comments did not consist of threats, just name-calling. “All of us knew about it. When a message went out we all received a notification at the same time. It was a lot of personal attacks. 

“We had to shut down social media because of the stuff we were receiving.” 

The case has been sent over to Wyoming Supervising Attorney General Jackson Engels’ office.

“It’s terrible and unfortunate (with) what’s happening to my client,” Engels told the Douglas Budget on the phone. “It just makes me sick.” 

The recent incident was not the first time county public health employees reportedly got harassed. 

In October, two men came into the public health building without masks on. They refused to wear them and harassed the employees during the entire situation. 

Later on, they shared a video they took of the incident all over the internet, Cowardin said. 

“It takes a toll, getting called names,” she said. “It makes it really personal. It makes it hard to continue what we’re doing.”


Man arrested in catalytic converter thefts ordered to pay $41,000

GILLETTE — The man who was accused of stealing catalytic converters must pay $41,315 in restitution for thefts as part of his sentence.

Jeremy R. Buxton, 41, was given a suspended three- to five-year sentence for the two counts of burglary he pleaded guilty to. But District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke ordered him to pay restitution for all of the crimes Buxton had been charged with, which had been part of the plea deal.

Buxton was charged in three cases after police uncovered a string of catalytic converter thefts in October. The converters, which reduce emissions on cars, have been a favorite item to steal nationwide because they can be sold to recyclers for their precious metals.

Police were led to Buxton after nine converters had been cut off vehicles at S&S Builders on Enterprise Avenue on Oct. 7. Pacific Recycling told police that it had paid Buxton $3,603 for 37 of them over the past 30 days.

Two days after his arrest for the converter thefts, the owner of a hotel where Buxton had been staying called police. He’d been cleaning out a room Buxton had rented because Buxton was behind on his rent and was being kicked out. He came across items belonging to a local woman, including her passport.

At Buxton’s sentencing, Rumpke ordered him to pay $22,080 in restitution to the woman, $16,888 to S&S Builders and $2,347 to Grizzly Operating in Texas. He also fined Buxton $1,475, placed him on three years of supervised probation and to complete outpatient substance abuse treatment.


Man’s prison sentence suspended in hammer attack on wife

EVANSTON — An Evanston man with no prior criminal history pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and battery and was sentenced in Third District Court last week. 

John Rasmussen was sentenced to 8-10 years in prison for hitting his wife in the head with a hammer in July of 2020; however, that sentence was suspended in part and split in part. 

Through a plea agreement with the Uinta County Attorney’s office, Rasmussen was sentenced to one year in the Uinta County Jail and three years of supervised probation. 

With credit for the one year he had spent in jail since the incident occurred, Rasmussen was released on Friday, July 23, the day of sentencing.

Rasmussen was arrested on July 6, 2020, after police officers were summoned to the Rasmussen home when a woman called 911 to report she had been struck by an object. When they arrived, Evanston Police Department officers found Rasmussen’s wife confused and with injuries to her head.

Rasmussen subsequently told officers he had hit her in the head “two or three times” with a hammer because he “felt like it” and was “tired” of taking care of her.

In court last week, the victim spoke and said she did not agree with the plea deal because she was afraid Rasmussen would try to hurt her again. Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas spoke in favor of the plea deal, although she recognized the victim did not agree with it.