Joshua Winters

Carnival worker Joshua Winters talks with his public defender after a preliminary hearing Thursday morning at Natrona County Circuit Court in Casper. Winters is accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 5-year-old boy on July 18. The case will proceed to district court.

Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune

A carnival worker accused of abducting and sexually assaulting a 5-year-old boy in Casper will go to trial.

Circuit Court Judge Brian Christensen ruled Thursday morning that the case against Joshua Winters has probable cause to proceed in district court.

Winters was captured on surveillance video July 18 at the El Mark-O bowling alley playing video games with the alleged victim and two older boys, Casper police detective Anthony Stedillie said during a preliminary hearing.

After the older boys left, police said Winters and the youngest child walked about a mile to the North Platte River.

“He was lured away by the suspect with promise of video games,” Stedillie told the court.

Stedillie said Winters took off all his clothing and walked into the river. He then allegedly grabbed the boy, dragged him into the water and swam to the opposite bank, where he sexually assaulted the boy.

A woman found the boy at an intersection and drove him to the Mills Police Station.

Winters, who worked as a food vendor at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo, is charged with aggravated kidnapping, first-degree sexual abuse of a minor and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor. He faces life in prison and is currently being held at the Natrona County Detention Center on a $250,000 bond.

According to court documents, Winters told police the child’s brother stole money from his wallet while at the arcade. Winters said he and a child left the arcade to recover the missing money. However, the boy jumped or fell into the North Platte River and Winters went in to save him. Winters passed out on the bank after the rescue and the child was gone when he woke up, he said.

The alleged assault took place after the two exited the river and entered a patch of dense foliage.

“Any individual could be completely camouflaged from view after just going a few yards up the bank,” Stedillie said.

Winters warned the boy that if he screamed Winters would kill him, according to the documents.

Stedillie said a bloodhound was used to identify where the two entered and exited the river. The entry point was along 13th Street near the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, and the two exited on the opposite bank.

A witness who was driving on 13th Street saw a man and a young boy in the river and pulled over to ask if they needed help.

“Everybody is fine,” Winters told the witness, Stedillie said. The witness then saw the boy climb onto the bank of the river and walk into the foliage followed by Winters.

Surveillance cameras captured a man and boy “clearly recognizable” as Winters and the alleged victim walking by the Mills water treatment plant, Stedillie said. Eleven minutes later, video allegedly shows a shirtless Winters running by the water treatment plant in the opposite direction.

Defense attorney Robert Oldham said if Winters had wanted to access the treed area he could have simply walked across a nearby bridge. He also asked whether there was any evidence that Winters forced the boy to go with him to the river or to enter the foliage.

“It did not appear that the victim was being physically forced,” Stedillie said.

Winters had been hunched over and occasionally fidgeting while awaiting his hearing but smiled and laughed while conferring with Oldham. Several supporters of the victim and his family were in the courtroom and appeared distraught throughout the hearing.

Follow local government reporter Arno Rosenfeld on Twitter @arnorosenfeld.

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