Natrona County prosecutors on Tuesday dismissed half of the 14 sex assault charges faced by a Casper man in a sprawling case alleging he threatened women at gunpoint before sexually assaulting them.
The defendant, Samuel Barrett, 39, still faces 10 felonies in the case: two counts of sexual exploitation of children and a single count of blackmail as well as seven counts of first-degree sexual assault. The seven counts dismissed on Tuesday were all of second-degree sexual assault and all allegations underpinning the dismissed charges were already covered in parallel by the first-degree counts.
The decision to dismiss the lesser charges comes following a January hearing at which Judge Daniel Forgey questioned Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri extensively about the implications of a recent appeal from the same judge’s court. At that hearing, Forgey implied that charging the same conduct under both first- and second-degree sexual assault statutes could run afoul of the Wyoming Supreme Court’s opinion that recently overturned Casper businessman Tony Cercy’s conviction of sexual assault.
Tuesday afternoon’s hearing — at which Barrett appeared free on $100,000 bail — began with testimony from a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent. Ryan Hieb’s statements came in support of an attempt by prosecutors to introduce evidence of child pornography on Barrett’s computer.
Prosecutors have not charged Barrett in connection with possession of those images. Instead, Taheri and Assistant District Attorney Ava Bell, have asked to introduce evidence of three images to jurors to show Barrett had motive to produce child porn at gunpoint, as the prosecutors have alleged in the sexual exploitation and blackmail charges.
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Rob Oldham, one of the two defense attorneys representing Barrett in the case, asked Forgey to keep the evidence from jurors because — Oldham argued — it does not conclusively link Barrett to the images. If jurors see the images, they likely would be unfairly prejudiced, Oldham said, and the defense’s case would be deeply damaged.
“The ball game is basically over,” he said.
Forgey did not make a decision Tuesday on the issue. After lawyers concluded their arguments, Taheri amended the charging document to make more specific the dates of the alleged crimes. Forgey then read the remaining counts — which allege Barrett sexually assaulted four women a total of seven times — to the defendant.
The judge then ruled on another series of issues raised at the January hearing. On many of those requests, Forgey ruled in favor of prosecutors.
The prosecution will be allowed to tell jurors about Barrett’s prior conviction of second-degree sexual abuse, Forgey ruled. Prosecutors allege that Barrett again assaulted the girl whom, Barrett previously admitted to abusing in that case, which dates to 2009.
The judge, however, did not allow a different woman to testify to another allegation of sexual abuse dating to 2000. She told law enforcement at the time that Barrett, who was 19, sexually abused her when she was 14. That case never went to trial and Forgey said Tuesday that the evidence did not clearly show Barrett had committed that conduct.
Barrett is set to go to trial in March.