The past 12 months were marked with a number of high-profile crimes and court cases in Casper, many of which included allegations of sexual assault.

While some of the accused were found guilty and sentenced, others have yet to have their day in court. An arrest is often just the beginning of the lengthy legal proceedings common in felony cases and many of the cases that began in 2017 won’t be resolved until 2018.

Despite the attention some of these cases have attracted, the rate of reported violent crimes in Casper remained relatively steady between 2012 and 2016, the most recent year for which FBI crime statistics are available. In 2016, Casper residents reported 70 incidents of violent crime — the lowest number since 2012, according to the data. The number ranged from 84 to 88 in the preceding years.

Carnival worker convicted of sexually assaulting 5-year-old

After four days of trial and three hours of deliberation in May, a Natrona County jury found a carnival worker guilty of the July 2016 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 5-year-old boy.

The boy, now 6, took the stand during the trial and told a courtroom of adults what he remembered from that day last summer. The defendant, Joshua Winters, also took the stand and denied assaulting the child.

Winters was working for a contractor with the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo at the time of his arrest.

According to police and prosecutors, Winters took the child from the arcade at the El Mark-O bowling alley, led him across the North Platte River and sexually assaulted him. A woman later found the boy standing alone and crying at an intersection and brought him to the Mills Police Station.

In September, a judge sentenced Winters, 34, to a total of 115 years in prison for the three felonies. After the sentencing hearing, the boy’s mother said justice had been served.

Casper man sentenced to life in prison for raping and attempting to murder 4-year-old girl

During a brief sentencing hearing in October, a Natrona County judge sentenced a Casper man to life imprisonment for crimes the judge called “absolutely horrific.”

Brandtly Bedsaul, 20, pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and first-degree sexual abuse of a minor in July. Police arrested him in October 2016 for raping a 4-year-old girl and attempting to strangle her to death in the front yard of a Casper home. The girl was unresponsive when police and first responders arrived at the home.

Tony Cercy charged with sexual assault

After weeks of investigation, prosecutors charged local businessman Tony Cercy in July with three felonies alleging he raped an unconscious 20-year-old woman.

The woman told investigators she had been asleep at a home near Alcova Lake after a party. She woke up during the night and found Cercy performing oral sex on her. Investigators interviewed more than 10 people who were at the party that night and examined the woman’s phone calls and text messages.

Prosecutors charged 55-year-old Cercy with first-, second- and third-degree sexual assault. He pleaded not guilty to all of the charges at his arraignment in September.

Cercy’s trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 12. He remains free on $100,000 bond.

Trial postponed twice for former Casper doctor charged with sexually assaulting patients

The trial for a Casper doctor charged with sexually assaulting at least six of his patients was postponed twice in 2017 due to difficulties with attorneys.

Paul Harnetty faces eight counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of third-degree sexual assault for allegedly assaulting female patients during medical exams. Some of the women said he touched their vaginal area without gloves, and all said he rubbed them in ways that didn’t seem to be part of a medical exam.

Harnetty pleaded not guilty to the charges in April and a trial was set for June 26. Ten days before the trial, however, his defense attorney requested that the trial be delayed by two months because Harnetty had switched attorneys and the new counsel needed time to review the case.

But when the rescheduled trial date approached in August, the defense again asked for a delay. Harnetty’s attorney had been hospitalized and unable to work in the case. The judge reluctantly granted a 90-day delay, to the disappointment of at least one of the women who said she had been assaulted by the doctor.

The case is now scheduled to go to trial Jan. 22.

Harnetty, who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, previously worked at the Community Health Centers of Central Wyoming and had medical privileges with Wyoming Medical Center.

Casper police officers face child abuse charges

In February, two Casper police officers turned themselves in to the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office on warrants for child abuse charges. Sgt. Todd Wells was later charged with child endangerment, a misdemeanor, and his wife, Officer Laura Starnes-Wells, was charged with felony child abuse.

Prosecutors later dropped the charge against Todd Wells and he continues to work for the Casper Police Department.

The charges against Starnes-Wells alleged she used extreme punishment to discipline her adopted son and failed to meet his mental health needs.

Starnes-Wells pleaded guilty in November to the felony charge and a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment. If the judge accepts the agreement at her sentencing hearing, she will serve up to five years of probation. If she successfully completes that probation the court will drop the felony charge and she will not be convicted on that count.

Starnes-Wells, who previously worked as a school resource office at Centennial Middle School, resigned in November. Both of her adopted children were removed from her custody early in the court proceedings.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Features Editor

Elise Schmelzer joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and interning at newspapers around the country. As features editor, she oversees arts and culture coverage and reports stories on a broad variety of topics.

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