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Casper
breaking
Jury convicts Tony Cercy of sexual assault, Casper businessman held without bond until sentencing

THERMOPOLIS — Tony Cercy bowed his head as a near-unified sigh poured from the supporters gathered behind him.

His attorney, Pamela Mackey, likewise bowed her head.

At defense attorney Jeff Pagliuca’s request, Judge Daniel Forgey began questioning jurors. Cercy’s wife, Caryl, covered her face with her hands, breathing loudly. She began to shake as she sobbed.

Moments before, the jury had convicted her husband of third-degree sexual assault. After brief arguments from Pagliuca and prosecutor Michael Blonigen, Natrona County sheriff’s deputies took Cercy into custody. He will be held without bond as he awaits a sentencing hearing.

The decision caps a dramatic fall for the businessman who rose to the top of a Wyoming oilfield service company and invested heavily in downtown Casper before being accused — and, after nearly 16 months, convicted — of performing oral sex on an unconscious woman at his home.

The victim and the victim’s family were not in the Hot Springs County courtroom to hear the verdict. A private attorney, retained by the family to help navigate the prosecution process, was present. She declined to immediately offer a statement on behalf of the family following Cercy’s conviction.

Pagliuca declined to comment as he left the courthouse.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Blonigen, the Natrona County district attorney, said the victim had acted with courage by agreeing to testify for a second time. He said she was overwhelmingly relieved by the jury’s decision.

Blonigen, who is retiring in January, went on to call for more community support for adult victims of sexual assault. He said that although criminal justice authorities have come a long way in the past 15 years in helping to find comprehensive support for child victims of sex crimes, adult survivors do not yet have easy access to the same resources.

The criminal case became especially important, Blonigen said, when he saw social media expressions of concern for Cercy losing his stature. Blonigen said he was disappointed to see a different reasonable doubt standard for wealthy defendants when compared to poorer people.

“We have a long way to go on our attitudes toward sexual assault,” he said.

The prosecutor said he hasn’t decided yet on the sentence he will seek for Cercy. A Department of Corrections representative will conduct an investigation into Cercy’s background before his sentencing hearing.

In the meantime, Cercy is expected to appeal. He had asked the state’s highest court to dismiss the case on double jeopardy grounds, but the Wyoming Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear that motion.

The verdict comes after two trials, the first of which resulted in a hung jury on the question of whether Cercy committed third-degree sexual assault. This time, jurors returned with a unanimous verdict: guilty.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for more than 10 hours before telling Natrona County District Judge Dan Forgey they had reached a verdict.

Timeline: Coverage of the Tony Cercy case, from his arrest to conviction

The now 22-year-old accuser testified last week that she woke around 3 a.m. on June 25, 2017, on a couch in the Casper businessman’s Alcova lake house to Cercy performing oral sex on her.

Cercy told a Natrona County jury in February that he did not have sexual contact with the woman. Jurors in that case eventually acquitted him of two other counts of sexual assault. They deadlocked on a charge of third-degree sexual assault.

Cercy did not take the stand in the Hot Springs County proceeding, although portions of his February testimony was presented to jurors.

Attorneys at the second trial presented much of the same evidence as they did during the last proceeding. However, this time Blonigen told jurors that new evidence taken from Cercy’s cell phone showed he was moving around at a time he claimed he had been sleeping – a key part of the businessman’s defense.

Mackey countered by characterizing the app that produced the data as a “toy” and “completely unreliable.”


Energy
Wyoming industry drives economic gains as state climbs out of bust

The oil and gas industry continues to drive down unemployment rates in parts of Wyoming, though the state average remains higher than national numbers.

The U.S. unemployment rate currently sits at 3.7 percent compared to Wyoming’s 4.2 percent. The state’s gradual climb out of a simultaneous bust in coal, oil and gas has yet to fill the gaps in jobs and state income created by the downturn. But a year and a half of favorable crude prices has shifted job numbers, particularly in areas of the state where activity in the oil and gas fields predominates.

In just one month — from September to October — the unemployment rate in Sweetwater County — a focal point for gas development — fell from 4 percent to 3.5 percent, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.

Converse County’s unemployment rate also dropped from 3.6 percent to 3.1 percent. Converse is the richest area for current and anticipated oil and gas drilling and production in the state. The county hit a three-year record for applications for drilling permits in March, when more than 1,000 applications were submitted to the state.

In total, Wyoming has been flooded with a record number of applications, reaching 18,000 at one point recently. The influx is caused by producers jockeying for control of drilling and spacing units in Wyoming, where current rules favor first come, first served. Many of those applications will likely not result in actual drilling, according to state regulators.

There are currently a handful of rigs operating in Sweetwater County as well as the first utility-scale solar farm, which is under construction on 700 acres of mostly federally owned land near Green River. The project’s construction and early operation was anticipated to create between 150 and 300 short-term jobs.

Beyond employment, many workers are making more money per week, both in terms of their wages and the number of hours they are working, according to the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division, which creates a formula charting unemployment, wages, mining taxes and national park visits to provide a summary grade for the state’s economy. In September, due in part to the rise in private sector wages, the state’s economy continued on a positive pace that’s held since April 2017.

The mining sector is driving sales and use tax income up from its downturn lows. From January to September, total mining collections exceeded the three-year average for those months by 14.8 million.

More than 7,000 jobs have been added to the private sector in Wyoming since September of last year.


National
AP
Trump rails against court, migrants in call to troops

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump used a Thanksgiving Day call to troops deployed overseas to pat himself on the back and air grievances about the courts, trade and migrants heading to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump’s call, made from his opulent private Mar-a-Lago club, struck an unusually political tone as he spoke with members of all five branches of the military to wish them happy holidays.

“It’s a disgrace,” Trump said of judges who have blocked his attempts to overhaul U.S. immigration law, as he linked his efforts to secure the border with military missions overseas.

Trump later threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico for an undisclosed period of time if his administration determines Mexico has lost “control” on its side.

Also, Trump demanded “some common sense” from America’s judges and directed his ire at a liberal-leaning appeals court. He professed respect for Chief Justice John Roberts, with whom he is engaged in a startling public dispute over the independence of the judiciary, yet shrugged off the Republican appointee as someone who “can say what he wants.”

The call was a uniquely Trump blend of boasting, peppered questions and off-the-cuff observations as his comments veered from venting about slights to praising troops — “You really are our heroes,” he said — as club waiters worked to set Thanksgiving dinner tables on the outdoor terrace behind him. And it was yet another show of how Trump has dramatically transformed the presidency, erasing the traditional divisions between domestic policy and military matters and efforts to keep the troops clear of politics.

“You probably see over the news what’s happening on our southern border,” Trump told one Air Force brigadier general stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, adding: “I don’t have to even ask you. I know what you want to do, you want to make sure that you know who we’re letting in.”

Trump also continued to rail against the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which he said has become “a big thorn in our side.”

“It’s a terrible thing,” he said, when judges “tell you how to protect your border. It’s a disgrace.”

Later, Trump asked a U.S. Coast Guard commander about trade, which he noted was “a very big subject” for him personally.

“We’ve been taken advantage of for many, many years by bad trade deals,” Trump told the commander, who sheepishly replied that, “We don’t see any issues in terms of trade right now.”

And throughout, Trump was sure to congratulate himself, telling the officers that the country is doing exceptionally well on his watch.

“I hope that you’ll take solace in knowing that all of the American families you hold so close to your heart are all doing well,” he said. “The nation’s doing well economically, better than anybody in the world.” He later told reporters “nobody’s done more for the military than me.”

Indeed, asked what he was thankful for this Thanksgiving, Trump cited his “great family,” as well as himself.

“I made a tremendous difference in this country,” he said. “This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office and you wouldn’t believe it and when you see it, we’ve gotten so much stronger people don’t even believe it.”

But Trump continued to warn about the situation on the southern border as he took questions from reporters, pointing to the caravans of Central American migrants that have been making their way toward the U.S. and warning that, “If we find that it gets to a level where we lose control or people are going to start getting hurt, we’re going to close entry into the country for a period of time until we get it under control.”

He said he had the authority to do so by executive order and claimed he’d already used it earlier this week. “Two days ago, we closed the border. We actually just closed it, said nobody’s coming in because it was just out of control.”

By no means did he seal the border with Mexico. Officials did shut down one port of entry, San Ysidro, in California, for several hours early Monday morning to bolster security because of concerns about a potential influx of migrant caravan members.

Trump’s border threat came days after a federal judge put the administration’s attempts to overhaul asylum rules on hold.

Trump probably could close the entire southern border by order, at least temporarily, invoking national security powers.

Trump began his Thanksgiving Day by asserting on Twitter that courts should defer to his administration and law enforcement on border security because judges “know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe.”

The president later told reporters that law enforcers and military service members he has sent to the U.S.-Mexico border “can’t believe the decisions that are being made by these judges.”

Trump has gone after federal judges before who have ruled against him, but the current dustup is the first time that Roberts, the leader of the federal judiciary, has offered even a hint of criticism of the president.

Roberts issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday defending judicial independence and contradicting Trump’s claim that judges are partisans allied with the party of the president who nominated them.


Casper
Mother of bullied student asks Casper City Council for support

The mother of a CY Middle School student who was bullied last month on a school bus and later sustained a concussion is imploring the Casper City Council to take action against bullying.

At the Council’s Tuesday meeting, Amber O’Donnell — who was wearing a bright orange T-shirt with the words “Stop Enabling Bullies” emblazoned on the back — said that the school’s leaders and resource officers mishandled the Oct. 2 incident.

Explaining that she struggled to obtain information from the school, O’Donnell said those who handle bullying need more training about how to treat victims and their families. The mother also said it is unfair that bullied students are punished for defending themselves.

“We are challenging you City Council members to go forth with integrity and be the change,” said O’Donnell, who then presented an anti-bullying petition that she said was signed by more than 100 community members.

Mayor Ray Pacheco said he could not comment specifically on the incident involving O’Donnell’s daughter. But he thanked the mother for speaking out and said the Council agreed that bullying is a serious concern.

“We find bullying to be abhorrent,” Pacheco said.

Councilman Mike Huber said he meant no disrespect, but that he was unsure how O’Donnell expected the council members to help. The Natrona County School District runs the schools, not the Council, he said.

But O’Donnell argued that the city’s leaders do have a role to play. School resource officers investigate bullying, and they are members of the police force, which is run by the city, she said.

Everyone in the community needs to work together to take a stand against bullying, O’Donnell added.

Councilman Dallas Laird agreed and said that he would like to see strict laws implemented against bullying at the local and state levels. Laird recently proposed an anti-bullying resolution, which the Council approved.

Caitlin Jonckers, O’Donnell’s daughter, previously told the Star-Tribune that she was harassed on the bus ride by three students. After departing the bus, she said she approached them to defend herself.

“I went up to them to tell them, ‘This is not OK. Leave me alone. This is very immature, and I would be reporting it,’” she said. “And, um, this older girl, they started taunting, and one of them was getting in my space. ... And the older girl punched me in my head.”

The district has declined to say which student threw the first punch; officials have said that detail doesn’t matter, only that both students were involved.

The district punished two girls for the bullying that occurred on the bus and suspended Jonkers and another student for the fight that happened off the bus that resulted in the Jonkers’ injuries.

Jonkers, who was taken to the emergency room and treated for a concussion, is still out on medical leave. The district previously said it has not heard of any injuries sustained by the other students involved in the bullying and fighting incident.

Bullying is not uncommon in the United States. The National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6 to 12 have experienced bullying.

Some younger victims are reluctant to ask for help, according to stopbullying.gov, a federal website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The website lists warning signs that parents or chaperones can watch for, including: unexplained injuries, declining grades, lost or damaged clothing or jewelry, nightmares or difficultly sleeping, faking illnesses to skip school or other social activities, changes in eating habits, decreased self-esteem and self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harming or running away from home.

Staff writer Seth Klamann contributed to this report.