It was midday on a bleak and hard highway when bullets cut the air -- cool, thin, Wyoming air.

The first came through the windshield, into his left eye, stopping millimeters from his brain. If there was pain, he doesn't remember. It's the sensation of a falling red curtain he talks about.

He slumped right, across the seat. Fumbling, he clutched the radio, screaming to dispatchers, "I've been shot! I've been shot! Help! Help!"

Then it felt like burning iron thrusting again and again through the flesh of his lower back.

Unable to reach the firearm trapped beneath him, he kicked the man standing over him in the crotch. Then he stepped out of his cruiser and watched him scurry back toward a car.

He steadied near the front bumper, pulled his .357 Magnum from its holster. He shot six times, emptying the gun toward the vehicle speeding away, out of sight.

Alone, he needed to stop the blood falling from his abdomen. He walked toward the trunk where the gauze was and felt his heart pounding, knowing he'd better slow its pace.

So he lay on that highway near the back of his cruiser, and Steve Watt -- a big bear of a man infused with an independent streak and a John Wayne manner -- drew what everyone agrees should have been his last breath. With it and the fear of death inside him, he said a prayer.

God, I don't know if I'm going to live, but if I die, take care of my wife, Marian. Please help me.


Mark Farnham is the man who shot Steve Watt that day. A handful of law enforcement officials apprehended him about three miles from where he left Watt. It was March 18, 1982.

Earlier that day, Farnham had walked into a bank in Craig, Colo., to rob it. He left with $10,000 cash in a duffel bag. He put it in the passenger seat of his Plymouth Champ and drove toward Wyoming.

Not long later, on Wyoming Highway 430, he met Watt, a 26-year-old Wyoming state trooper. Farnham put five bullets into Watt -- one in the head, four in the back at point blank range.

Farnham went to prison on a life sentence. Watt lived but with broken spirit and body, went into hatred and addiction.

Today, 29 years later, they are best friends.


When Watt, 55, talks about that day, there are some circumstances he presents in a voice stirred with passion. That happens when someone is convinced a higher being's hand is at work.

* He wasn't scheduled to work that morning. He was on evening shift but switched because another trooper did not want to attend a 1 p.m. funeral service that day.

* It had snowed the previous evening, roads were iced. Which meant there had been wrecks. Which meant Watt assumed he would spend the day writing accident reports. Which meant when he dressed that morning, he chose not to put on his bulletproof vest.

* He had to go check Sweetwater County's fleet of ambulances about 10 a.m. that day. Per state law, if he found anything wrong with them -- burned out taillight, expired tag, faulty blinker, etc. -- he was to yank them off the road. He found problems with every ambulance there, but instead of shutting them down, he told the owner to straighten out the kinks. A few hours later, one of the ambulances would take Watt to the hospital.

He was at a Rock Springs restaurant eating lunch when the call came. He swallowed the last bites of a chili burger, then headed south on Highway 430, looking for a Colorado bank robber heading north.


Farnham was a Minnesota man who had washed out of college because of a fondness for cocaine and the debt that followed. He came to Wyoming to earn oil-field wages and get sober. He ended up in Jackson and worse debt -- more than $25,000 worth -- because of a failed business.

When pride wouldn't allow him to ask for help, he bought a $50 pistol at a pawn shop and went to rob that bank in Colorado. Two outcomes, he figured. Get away, use the money to get back on his feet, finish school. Or get caught and go to prison, where a man's debt becomes the least of concerns.

He was 24 years old when he walked into that bank. He had that cheap pistol and $2 in his pocket.

Later, when he stood over a wounded Watt, the rush of adrenaline he felt each time he pulled the trigger hit harder than any drug ever could.

"When I got out and shot Steve, it wasn't real," he said. "He wasn't important. He was an obstacle, he wasn't human. I didn't see him as a father, a brother, a son -- I didn't see him at all."

His admits his intentions were the worst.

"I thought he was dead. I left him for dead."


A passing trucker leaned over and asked, What happened? How can I help?

Watt, breathing exhaust from his cruiser's tail pipe, asked him to turn off the engine.

An ambulance he should have parked picked him up. On the way to Rock Springs -- where he lived, roughly 13 miles north -- he could hear emergency medical technicians calling out vital signs. He heard the numbers and thought, That guy always dies.

With his veins collapsing, EMTs had trouble starting an IV. Watt remembers being in the emergency room, awake when they inserted the catheter. The doctor broke his nose to insert a stomach pump.

Farnham, whom Watt managed to shoot once in the shoulder when he tried to drive away, was in there, too. They were less than 10 feet apart, separated by a sheet hanging from the ceiling. The shooter could hear the doctor's words, could hear Watt's screams.

Watt spent eight hours in surgery. He awoke at 3 a.m. in intensive care, his father holding his hand.

They had cut out his left eye and a third of his liver. They had taken most of his bullet-shredded intestines. Fearing more damage if they removed it, they left a bullet in his spine. The pain still bothers him today.


Farnham was charged with attempted first-degree murder.

Robert Reese prosecuted the case. He had a heavy docket at the time, four murder cases heading to trial. So he plea-bargained Farnham down to attempted second-degree murder.

In July 1982, Farnham pleaded guilty. He claims there was a 20- to 25-year sentence on the table, but he asked for the life sentence. He figured he'd be released quicker that way. At the time, the average number of years spent behind bars on a life sentence was about seven, according to Reese.

Watt, thinking the man who shot him might walk free in roughly a decade, met the news of Farnham's sentence with revulsion.

"He should have gotten the death penalty for all I wanted," he said. "I hated him so much."


Forgiveness rarely comes easy.

Watt put a gun in his mouth. His wife, Marian, was at work. He was full of booze and pain pills. "It was the only way I could sleep," he said of his addictions. John Wayne never asked for help, so why would he?

This was nearly a year later. He'd gone back to work. A trooper again, two months after being shot, in fact. Miracle of miracles. Only it wasn't. The joy was gone, dried like blood on that highway. He fought, though, put on the face with the badge.

Then, on the streets, he scared himself. A speeder he stopped pulled out a wallet, and Watt, his brain swallowed by post-traumatic stress disorder, saw it as a .44 Magnum revolver and almost shot the innocent man. So with his nightmares rolling into his days, he quit the Wyoming Highway Patrol. This was January, 1983.

"I was dead. My life was done," Watt said. "I wished I had died that day."

When he thought of his wife, he took the barrel from his mouth, went on living. The nightmares kept coming back. And he hid the beer cans from Marian. They moved from town to town, searching for a job and peace.

"He had a growing hatred," his wife said. "It was all-consuming for him. He hated Mark as much as any person can hate another person. It was destroying him."


Watt called a police chaplain.

Why won't peace come?

The chaplain asked if he had forgiven Farnham, not in words, but in the quiet places inside himself. Yes, Watt told him. Only he hadn't. He felt if he forgave the man who broke his dream, he would be lessening Farnham's responsibility.

But Marian, baptized in the wake of her husband's near-death, urged Watt toward acceptance.

So in 1986, he sat and wrote a letter, addressed it to Farnham. He explained he had become a Christian, and asked Farnham to join him in faith.

"The second I wrote that letter, my hating him was no longer important," he said.

That same year, Watt, attending a prison revival, met Farnham face-to-face. They embraced, told each other how glad they were they didn't kill one another the day they emptied their pistols.

"I found out that day that he wasn't the monster who shot me," Watt said. "He was just a man."


Today, Farnham is inmate number 12842 at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institute in Torrington. One of his most frequent visitors is Steve Watt.

Farnham's a medium-sized, brown haired and bespectacled 53-year-old who looks like someone's uncle. Life's spent in a red jumpsuit. In conversation, he emphasizes points with his hands a lot. He drinks a lot of Mountain Dew.

In 1992, then-Gov. Mike Sullivan signed off on a parole board's recommendation that Farnham's life sentence be commuted to 70 to 85 years in prison. A decade later, then-Gov. Jim Geringer accepted a parole board suggestion that his sentence be knocked back to 65 to 75 years.

In the mid-1980s, Farnham, who says he didn't become a Christian until 2004, tried to escape from prison, a move which barred him from ever being paroled.

With parole no option, Farnham's only chance of ever being a free man lies with the parole board recommending a commutation of his sentence to time served and a governor signing off on it.

Watt is the loudest advocate for his freedom.

Asked what he would do if he got out, Farnham said, "Thank God." If it ever happens, he and Watt plan to travel the country sharing their story. They both say they'd teach Christ's doctrine of forgiveness and try to help people heal wounds.

"If Steve had made the choice to stay unforgiving toward me, he would have remained locked in a cage worse than the one I'm in," Farnham said. "People don't need to be locked in prisons of anger."

The relationship Watt developed with the man who shot him allowed him to stop feeling like a victim, Watt said.

Robert Reese, the man who prosecuted Farnham three decades ago, wrote a letter to the parole board in 2001. In it, he said he supported Watt in the notion that keeping Farnham behind bars serves "no useful purpose." He feels the same way today.

"Primarily, for Trooper Watt," Reese, who practices law in Green River, said last week. "I think forgiveness is a really hard thing to do. But when someone gets there, I think it's the most important thing in terms of them getting closure."

But Watt and his wife, a former Rock Springs police officer, understand politics and attitudes toward people who shoot law enforcement officers are likely against it.

"I can't think of any state where it would be popular to release a cop killer, or a would-be cop killer," Marian said. She, like her husband and Farnham, believes if God wants him free, he'll be free.

"When it's time for Mark to be released, it will happen."


The nightmares sometimes come back. The physical side will never go away.

At best, Watt leans on crutches. At worst, he's in a wheelchair. The wounds, coupled with the surgeries, left his abdomen a sea of scar tissue. He struggles to recall how many hernia operations he's had. That bullet's still in his spine. In 2000, he stepped on a toothpick and didn't know it. The ensuing infection has caused doctors to chip bone away ever since. The last 10 years his faltering body has handed him roughly $120,000 in medical bills.

"He still deals with problems to this day," Marian said of her husband.

"It could always be worse," Watt said.

He references his damaged body after saying, through a half-smile, "I'm not fit to work." He spent two legislative terms in Cheyenne as a representative. These days, he speaks at the occasional church or school, always eager, he said, to share God's word.

"You reach people, and they have a new hope, a new purpose," he said.

He and his wife split time between northern California and Rock Springs.

"I don't know why I keep coming back to Rock Springs. Nothing good ever happened to me there -- except getting shot," he said with a laugh. "I'm still searching, waiting for God to show me what he has in store for me."

Death, it should be said, doesn't scare Watt the way it did when he was young and bleeding on Highway 430.

"Why should it?" he said. "That's when I get to go home. And I'm ready to go home."

It's a home he hopes one day includes his friend, Mark Farnham.

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