Dana Jones thought his jury trial was a done deal.
The local trucker and car collector pleaded not guilty earlier this year to the two dozen misdemeanor charges that said his assemblage of more than 200 inoperable and unlicensed vehicles violate county zoning ordinances and state statutes.
A Natrona County Circuit Court judge at the time granted Jones a jury trial for the criminal charges, agreeing to hear all 24 at once.
However, at a recent motion hearing, the same judge dismissed most of the citations that carried jail time and with them likely dismissed Jones’ trial by jury.
“This is not a jail matter,” Assistant
District Attorney John Miner said of the remaining citations during the June 7 hearing. “And in neither of them is the state seeking any form of jail, incarceration or probation. ... There’s no reason to wrap monetary penalties only into a jury trial.”
Miner, who represents the state of Wyoming in the case, said Jones’ criminal trial should be suspended until a similar dispute — Jones’ civil lawsuit against the Natrona County Commission — is resolved in a different court in the same building. Jones is suing Natrona County Commission for what he says is excessive enforcement of unlawful zoning codes.
Jones’ counsel, local attorney Harry Bondi, disagreed.
“No way do we want to delay the conclusion of these issues one more day,” Bondi said during the recent hearing.
The state’s motion to suspend the criminal trial and to try Jones’ remaining citations by bench is not final until the court reconvenes, which Bondi said will take place June 20. Though the exact type of trial is still pending, court documents say Jones’ criminal trial will start July 16 and last four days.
Jones argues his assembly of inoperable and unlicensed vehicles is an antique collection, not a junk yard, and he wants the chance to say so in front of a jury in criminal court. He compiled a set of expert witnesses to testify to the historic value of his car collection during what he anticipated would be an upcoming jury trial, according to Circuit Court documents.
“We feel if we had a jury trial we would be heard, and all the evidence would be heard, including the expert witnesses,” Jones said in an interview with the Star-Tribune.
County ordinances permit up to four and Wyoming statutes permit up to three inoperable vehicles on a single property. Between his two Natrona County properties, Jones owns at least 200.
“It’s a lifetime investment,” Jones said. “Other people collect coins, they collect money, they collect dolls, whatever. I collect cars and trucks.”