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Trae Smith

Trae Smith

A Casper man on Monday told a judge he molested two mentally disabled women while he worked at a local group home.

Trae D. Smith made the admissions as part of a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to three felonies, including two sex crimes. The agreement calls for him to serve between five and 60 years imprisonment. Judge Cathering Wilking will determine the sentence after hearing attorneys’ arguments.

Smith’s pleas included a guilty plea to a single count of abuse of a vulnerable adult and a single count of first-degree sexual assault. He also entered an Alford plea to a single count of second-degree sexual abuse.

An Alford plea is a guilty plea that allows a person to maintain their innocence after entering the plea. Although Smith did not admit that he abused a 15-year-old girl, the judge convicted him of doing so once he admitted prosecutors could likely prove his guilt to a jury.

Smith entered the pleas less than a week after a failed attempt to contest the warrant that investigators used to find video evidence of the crimes against disabled women.

The footage came to investigators’ attention after they received a report of the abuse of the child. A judge granted permission to search Smith’s phone. Though they did not find the video evidence of the child sexual abuse they’d anticipated, police found footage of Smith molesting the two women.

He had argued that testimony supporting the warrant was incomplete and inaccurate and asked Wilking to suppress any evidence it uncovered, which could have scuttled a large portion of the case. The judge last week, however, ruled against Smith. Two days later, he filed a request to change his pleas.

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On Monday, Smith appeared in court wearing shackles, handcuffs and an orange jail uniform. Sitting next to his court-appointed lawyer at the defense table, Smith spoke into a microphone to answer a series of procedural questions.

As Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri outlined the plea deal, Smith kept his head down, looking at paperwork in front of him. When Taheri described the abuse charge to which Smith would enter an Alford plea, he pulled his eyes from the paperwork and trained them on the ceiling before looking at his lawyer, Joe Hampton, and shaking his head.

After Smith entered his pleas and made admissions to the crimes against women, Taheri described the evidence prosecutors could present to jurors on the sex abuse count. The prosecutor told Wilking that the child would testify at trial to Smith abusing her and prosecutors would also call a corroborating witness.

Smith told the judge he thought the evidence would amount at trial to proof beyond a reasonable doubt and — after brief discussion of an issue related to another of Smith’s legal issues — Wilking concluded the hearing.

The deal calls for sentences on the sexual assault and sexual abuse convictions to run at the same time. Lawyers will be able to argue whether to run the sentence for abuse of a vulnerable adult at the same time or after with the other sentences. Because the sexual assault sentence is capped by law at 50 years imprisonment and the abuse of an adult sentence is limited by law to 10 years, Smith could face a maximum of 60 years in prison.

Law requires Wilking to sentence Smith to at least five years for the sexual assault charge.

As part of the deal, prosecutors also agreed to dismiss a case that accused Smith of endangering a child by possession of meth.

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Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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