The case against a local man suspected of kidnapping a child in order to sexually abuse her moved forward Thursday morning, as he waived a procedural hearing in Natrona County Circuit Court.
When Joshua T. Hicks, 32, waived a preliminary hearing — which he could have used to challenge prosecutors’ evidence before entering pleas — he did nothing exceptional. Defendants frequently waive such hearings, sometimes in the interest of limiting media coverage of their cases or to avoid telegraphing their defense strategies. The decision means, however, he will next appear in the county’s district court, where felony cases are handled. Hicks will then have his first opportunity to enter pleas to the three charges he faces.
Those three felony charges date to earlier this month, when Casper police put out a series of highly circulated requests for public assistance as the agency searched for a GMC pickup it said was involved in the abduction of a child. After 18 hours of searching by local, state and federal agencies, law enforcement located what they now say is Hicks’ truck. Following his arrest early on Independence Day, Hicks told a police detective he spotted a girl — no older than 5 and whom he did not previously know — playing outside July 3 and pulled her in his truck where he abused her, according to documents filed by prosecutors in support of the charges.
He told the detective he has twice before masturbated in front of young children, the documents state. His prior criminal record indicates Hicks has previously been suspected of a sexual crime, which was charged as a misdemeanor and later dismissed.
A copy of a 2005 citation filed in Natrona County Circuit Court states Casper police arrested Hicks in late September of that year on suspicion of masturbating in a parking lot of the Eastridge Mall. The charging document states officers arrested him at 7:30 on a Friday evening in the portion of the lot nearest the mall’s Target store. A public defender represented him on the single count of public indecency and, about three months after his arrest, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charge, according to a note scribbled on a docket sheet from Dec. 14, 2005.
The circumstances of the dismissal were not made fully clear from circuit court records available this week. However, court records indicate he was convicted of two alcohol-related misdemeanors the same year. Records available Thursday did not indicate if prosecutors had arranged a plea agreement governing all three cases or if the dismissal came independent of plea bargaining.
Hicks also told the detective last week he has watched young children playing in public and sometimes masturbated while doing so, the documents state. Twice, he has called girls over to his truck and masturbated in front of them, the documents state Hicks said in the police interview. He has not yet been charged in connection with those admissions.
Local defense attorney Don Fuller appeared Thursday morning on Hicks’ behalf in circuit court, where he was among 17 people scheduled for preliminary hearings. Hicks, who has been incarcerated since his arrest in lieu of $500,000 cash-only bail, sat nearest to a courtroom door reserved for inmates and sheriff’s deputies. Chase Nash, the Casper police detective who is the agency’s lead investigator on the case, sat in the last row of the courtroom’s packed pews next to a half-dozen uniformed officers.
When defendants exercise their right to a preliminary hearing and require prosecutors to demonstrate probable cause for felony charges, it is typically the lead law enforcement investigator who testifies and is subject to cross examination by defense attorneys. Nash, however, did not take the stand Thursday. When Judge Stephen Brown called Hicks’ case, Fuller gave the judge a written waiver of the hearing and declined to address his client’s bond. The two men exchanged words in the courtroom’s doorway before Hicks disappeared down the hallway leading to a sheriff’s transport and jail.
Nearly a quarter of the courtroom’s audience then followed Nash from the room.
Speaking in a courthouse hallway following the hearing, Fuller told the Star-Tribune he wouldn’t comment on the case.
Hicks is expected to appear later this summer in Natrona County District Court where he will have an opportunity to enter pleas to the three felonies he faces: one count each of aggravated kidnapping, second-degree sexual abuse of a minor and third-degree sexual abuse of a minor. A conviction on the kidnapping charge could be punishable by up to life in prison.
Editor's note: This article has been changed to remove an inaccurate reference to the location of Hicks' incarceration. He is being held in Converse County Detention Center. The Star-Tribune regrets the error.