You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Tony Cercy trial
Judge bars accusation that Tony Cercy assaulted stripper, allows testimony concerning separate altercation

A judge ruled Tuesday that jurors at Tony Cercy’s sexual assault trial should not hear allegations the Casper businessman assaulted a stripper and paid her so she wouldn’t go to the police.

However, the judge will allow the prosecution to present evidence that Cercy and a friend had an altercation with the alleged sexual assault victim’s then-boyfriend at a Casper bar this spring. The judge also barred prosecutors from presenting allegations that Cercy sexually harassed one woman and acted inappropriately toward another.

Cercy is slated to stand trial on three felony charges next month. Prosecutors argued the new evidence would show Cercy had motive and intent to sexually assault a woman on a couch in his Alcova house early on the morning of June 25. The woman told investigators she woke to him performing oral sex on her.

Cercy has pleaded not guilty.

In a Natrona County District Court hearing that spanned five hours, Forgey ruled on a long list of motions in anticipation of the upcoming trial. In addition to ruling on evidence of past acts, Forgey decided to keep from jurors a video created by the defense that purported to recreate the woman’s version of events.

The video showed dogs barking, which was not mentioned in the woman’s testimony, but which defense attorneys intend to show would have happened. Blonigen had opposed the presentation of video, saying it misrepresented the woman’s testimony and was improper use of expert witnesses.

Forgey said the defense team could attempt to enter into evidence an audio recording from the re-creation.

Defense attorneys also contested the seizure of Cercy’s cellphone, arguing that it was not alleged to have been used in the commission of a crime and the warrant used to seize it was overly broad.

Forgey did not make a decision on those arguments Tuesday.

Attorneys argue over allegations

District Attorney Michael Blonigen said the incident involving the stripper allegedly occurred in 2010 at Cowboys strip club west of Casper. However, Judge Daniel Forgey said the proposed evidence “would tempt the jury to decide the case on an improper basis.”

Jeffrey S. Pagliuca, one of three attorneys representing Cercy at Tuesday’s hearing, said the incident was a “complete fabrication.” He said one of the men who claimed knowledge of the incident was a convicted felon who is not credible.

Cercy was also represented by Pamela Mackey, who practices in the same Denver firm as Pagliuca, and local attorney Ian Sandefer.

Blonigen successfully argued for the inclusion of evidence related to an altercation that he said involved Cercy, his friend and the then boyfriend of the alleged victim. According to the prosecutor, the incident apparently began after Cercy and the other man put their hands on the woman in what the prosecutor characterized as a flirtatious manner. That allegation, which Blonigen said took place about a month before the alleged assault, did not rise to the level of criminal conduct.

Although Cercy’s defense team argued that the prosecutor mischaracterized the incident, Forgey decided to allow that evidence at trial, saying it would show evidence of the nature of interactions between Cercy and the alleged victim.

Blonigen also referenced an alleged alcohol-fueled sexual harassment incident involving Cercy and another woman that dates back 15 years. Blonigen said the incident took place sometime between 2000 and 2003. After the woman objected to his advances, Cercy told her that he “can make life pretty rough for her,” Blonigen said.

“At the very least it’s oafish behavior,” Blonigen said. “At the very most it’s civil sexual harassment.”

In another incident, which allegedly took place at a local bar this year, Blonigen said Cercy put his arm around a woman and “(decided) that she (belonged) to him.” The woman is reluctant to speak about the incident, Blonigen said, but she was subpoenaed to appear at Cercy’s trial.

Neither of the latter two incidents were criminal in nature, Blonigen said.

Neither will be allowed in court, either, as Forgey ruled that the two allegations were not closely enough related to the criminal charges in the case. The judge specifically cited the long time span since the sexual harassment incident is alleged to have occurred and the reluctance of the other woman to appear in court, characterizing the prosecution’s evidence in that incident as “hearsay.”

Documents sealed, hearing opened

Because the accusations are considered allegations of prior bad actions, prosecutors were required to ask the court for permission to introduce them at trial.

Defense attorneys argued that the allegations should not be discussed in open court on Tuesday morning, asking Forgey to close the portions of the hearing that included the four allegations. Cercy is not standing trial for those allegations.

Filings related to prior bad acts evidence were placed under seal by the judge last month and thus not available for the Star-Tribune to review.

Blonigen did not oppose the defense’s motion to close the hearing, but Forgey decided to keep the proceedings open to the public. The judge said that he did not view Cercy’s trial as being significantly different from other sexual assault trials heard in his courtroom.

Forgey then referenced another case, which is set to go to trial in two weeks, and recently had prior bad acts evidence presented in open court despite opposition from the defense.

Forgey did not specify which case he meant, but he appeared to be referencing Paul Harnetty’s sexual assault case, in which the former Casper OB-GYN faces nine sexual assault charges. That trial is slated to begin later this month.

A pre-trial conference in Cercy’s case is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

A van crosses the Poplar Street bridge over the North Platte River on Tuesday evening in Casper. Slick roads and blowing snow may complicate travel across central Wyoming on Wednesday. Find more details in Casper & The West, A2

Wyoming considers doubling popular state park in Bighorn foothills as visitation grows

Wyoming may nearly double the size of a popular state park nestled in the western foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.

The Legislature will consider a request this session to allow Wyoming State Parks to assume control of 52 acres of public land adjacent to Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site about 30 miles northwest of Worland.

State Parks administrator Dominic Bravo said the park has experienced significant growth in recent years and needs more campsites and trails to accommodate the new volume of visitors.

“It was kind of a supply and demand piece,” Bravo said. “We can just see the need to expand.”

The park saw over 34,000 visitors in 2016, a 21 percent increase from five years earlier, according to State Parks. A recent report noted that the 28 campsites at Medicine Lodge are at or near-capacity during summer months.

The site is a nationally registered historic site featuring Native American rock art from 2,000 years ago and also offers the campgrounds, horse corrals, creek access and trails connecting to U.S. Forest Service and state Game and Fish Department land.

Medicine Lodge is known as a popular base camp for hunters. Trout fishing is also popular in the adjacent creek.

Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation on park land as far back as 10,000 years ago, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society. Rock art has been found on a sandstone bluff at the site.

“On top of being a beautiful setting, being on a creek, being near the Bighorns, it’s an important site,” Bravo said. “It’s a pretty magical place.”

The proposed expansion would allow State Parks to assume management of Game and Fish land, though no property would change hands in the deal.

Bravo said that taking over management of the land would allow State Parks to build campsites and trails while offering easier access to the adjacent land for hunters, anglers and hikers.

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee has sponsored a bill allowing for the park’s expansion but it still requires the approval of the full Legislature, which will meet in February.

Bravo said he believed it was likely that the measure would pass because the plan has been in the works for several years and has the support of both State Parks, Game and Fish and a key private landowner in the area.

“It’s a win-win for pretty much everyone,” Bravo said.

He added that State Parks would not require any additional funding to expand camping and trails at Medicine Lodge.

Game and Fish Department spokesman Renny MacKay said the agency had worked with State Parks to jointly manage some portions of the Medicine Lodge site since the early 1970s and that the current plan was a natural expansion of that relationship, turning over control of a very small portion of a 12,000-acre parcel in the area that is managed by Game and Fish.

“It allows us to manage some crucial habitat for elk and mule deer so it’s a great location for wildlife and then the public has access there with the land being managed by State Parks,” MacKay said.

Trump suggests 2-phase immigration deal; judge blocks DACA decision

WASHINGTON — Searching for a bipartisan deal to avoid a government shutdown, President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that an immigration agreement could be reached in two phases — first by addressing young immigrants and border security with what he called a "bill of love," then by making comprehensive changes that have long eluded Congress.

Trump presided over a lengthy meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers seeking a solution for hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and living here illegally. Trump last year ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which shielded more than 700,000 people from deportation and gave them the right to work legally. He gave Congress until March to find a fix.

Negotiations over the DACA program may be more complicated in light of a federal judge's ruling Tuesday to block temporarily the administration's decision to end the program. In doing so, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco granted a request by California and other plaintiffs to let lawsuits over the administration's decision play out in court.

Alsup said lawyers in favor of DACA clearly demonstrated that the young immigrants "were likely to suffer serious, irreparable harm" without court action. The judge also said the lawyers have a strong chance of succeeding at trial.

The president, congressional Republicans and Democrats expressed optimism for a deal just 10 days before a government shutdown deadline. Trump said he was willing to be flexible in finding an agreement as Democrats warned that the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants hung in the balance.

"I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with," Trump said during a Cabinet Room meeting with a bipartisan group of nearly two dozen lawmakers, adding, "I am very much reliant upon the people in this room." A group of journalists observed the meandering meeting for an extraordinary length of time — about 55 minutes — that involved Trump seeking input from Democrats and Republicans alike in a freewheeling exchange on the contentious issue.

"My head is spinning from all the things that were said by the president and others in that room in the course of an hour and a half," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "But the sense of urgency, the commitment to DACA, the fact that the president said to me privately as well as publicly, 'I want to get this done,' I'm going to take him as his word."

The head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Michelle Grisham Lujan, D-N.M., said late Tuesday she was "encouraged" by Trump's words and would work "in good faith" toward a deal. Some of the group's members have taken a hard line against surrendering too much in a compromise with Trump.

The White House said after the meeting that lawmakers had agreed to narrow the scope of the negotiations to four areas: border security, family-based "chain migration," the visa lottery and the DACA policy. Democrats and Republicans are set to resume negotiations Wednesday.

But the exchange raised questions about how far Trump would push for his high-profile border wall.

In describing the need for a wall, the president said it didn't need to be a "2,000-mile wall. We don't need a wall where you have rivers and mountains and everything else protecting it. But we do need a wall for a fairly good portion."

Trump has long made that case, saying even during his campaign that his border wall didn't need to be continuous, thanks to natural barriers in the landscape. And he has said he would be open to using fencing for some portions as well.

The unusually public meeting laid bare a back-and-forth between the parties more typically confined to closed-door negotiations. At one point, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, asked Trump if he would support a "clean" DACA bill now with a commitment to pursue a comprehensive immigration overhaul later.

Trump responded, "I would like it. ... I think a lot of people would like to see that but I think we have to do DACA first." House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., interjected, saying, "Mr. President, you need to be clear though," that legislation involving the so-called Dreamers would need to include border security.

The president said he would insist on construction of a border security wall as part of an agreement involving young immigrants, but he said Congress could then pursue a comprehensive immigration overhaul in a second phase of talks.

House Republicans said they planned to soon introduce legislation to address border security and the young immigrants. Trump said, "it should be a bill of love."

Trump's embrace of a "bill of love" brought to mind his past criticism of former GOP presidential rival Jeb Bush, who said many people come to the U.S. illegally as an "act of love." Trump's campaign posted a video at the time with a tagline that read, "Forget love, it's time to get tough!"

Conservatives quickly sounded alarms about a process that would lead to a comprehensive agreement on immigration, a path that has long been anathema to many rank-and-file Republicans.

"Nothing Michael Wolff could say about @realDonaldTrump has hurt him as much as the DACA lovefest right now," tweeted conservative commentator Ann Coulter, referencing Trump's recent portrayal in the book, "Fire and Fury."

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune 

A city snow plow clears a downtown street last month in Casper. Wind gusts as high as 60 mph were reported Tuesday along Wyoming Boulevard, and slick roads and blowing snow are expected to impact travel on Wednesday. 

Even as smoking rates drop in Wyoming, deaths related to the habit continue to rise

Deaths and health issues related to smoking continue to plague Wyomingites, even as the rate of adult smokers in the Cowboy State has fallen in recent years.

State data shows that in 2016, the smoking rate for Wyoming adults was 18.9 percent, down by more than 5 percentage points since 2003’s level of 24.6 percent, according to the state Department of Health. More than 19 percent of female adults here smoke, overtaking men (18.8 percent) for the first time.

While women now smoke at higher rates than male Wyomingites, men are still far ahead in the use of smokeless tobacco. The overall rate is 9.8 percent, but 17 percent of men use smokeless tobacco, compared to 2.3 percent of women.

Wyoming has one of the highest rates of smokeless tobacco usage in the country, department spokeswoman Kim Deti said. She said she didn’t really have an explanation for why other than that it appeared to be cultural. She noted, for instance, that smokeless tobacco companies were one of the primary sponsors of rodeos in Wyoming.

Smoking rates have fallen across the country. Deti said a big part of that drop can be attributed to more public knowledge of the risks of smoking. National and local efforts have also contributed. In Wyoming, for instance, smokers trying to quit can receive free nicotine gum or patches while also having access to coaching support, either online or over the phone.

But while the overall rates have dropped, deaths related to the habit have risen. In 2014, 303 people were diagnosed with lung cancer in Wyoming, and 212 died from the disease. The next year, 276 were diagnosed, and 213 died.

In both years, more women than men were diagnosed, the first time that’s happened in consecutive years, according to the health department. Lung cancer was the third-most common cancer diagnosis in both 2014 and 2015, behind breast and prostate cancer. But lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in Wyoming.

The number of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, has also increased of late.

“From 1990 to 1999 there were an average of 143 COPD deaths in men and 112 deaths in women per year,” according to a health department press release. That number rose from 2000 to 2009, with an average of 152 female deaths and 149 male deaths. The most recent data showed that an average of 177 women and 172 men die every year from the disease.

“One reason we may be seeing an increase in lung cancer diagnoses among women is that historically women as a population started smoking later,” health department official Joe Grandpre said in a statement. “American men started smoking just before and during World War II with a peak of about 55 percent of men smoking around 1955.

“American women did not start smoking until the later 1950s and early 1960s, peaking at around 33 percent in about 1968,” he continued.

Deti said the deaths may be rising as that generation of heavier smokers begins to grapple with the habit’s related health effects.

A report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network released last year ranked Wyoming in the bottom half of U.S. states for its cancer-fighting efforts, partially due to the state’s low cigarette tax rate and sparse smoke-free laws. Wyoming’s current tax is 60 cents per pack, one of the lowest in the nation and a dollar below the national average.

A separate study ranked Wyoming 34th in the nation for smoking rates.

While deaths and internal disease are well-known effects of chronic smoking, what may be less well known is the impact on dental health. Data from 2016 showed that 24.7 percent of adults over 45 have lost six teeth “due to gum disease or tooth decay,” according to the department. Forty-four percent of those were smokers. For older adults, those over 65, almost 18 percent have lost all of their teeth. More than 39 percent were smokers.