A Natrona County judge Tuesday morning denied a Casper man’s request for a second competency hearing, clearing the way for his guilty pleas to child abuse and sentencing for sexual abuse in separate cases.

Prosecutors charged James C. Sanders, 28, in independent cases last year, alleging he had raped a 13-year-old in her own home and had abused a 14-day-old baby to the point of brain bleeding. In court documents filed in July, prosecutors said the hemorrhaging could cause a permanent brain injury.

Sanders pleaded guilty in October to a single count of second-degree child abuse. A written plea agreement filed in Natrona County District Court indicates attorneys will ask for him to be sentenced to 12-20 years imprisonment for the crime.

Before a judge could sentence Sanders, his court-appointed defense attorney Dylan Rosalez last fall requested an evaluation of Sanders’ mental competency in the child abuse case that he also faces. Judge Daniel Forgey halted sentencing proceedings in the sexual abuse case while the Wyoming State Hospital evaluated Sanders.

After the hospital ruled Sanders competent, Rosalez requested a second evaluation, citing a diagnosis Sanders had received. Tuesday, Judge Kerri Johnson, who is overseeing the child abuse case, denied the request.

During Tuesday’s hearing, District Attorney Dan Itzen said the parties had come to an agreement in the case last year but a written description had not yet been filed with the court and Sanders had not yet changed his pleas in the child abuse case.

After the hearing, Rosalez said his client had agreed to plead guilty to two counts of child abuse and another count of aggravated child abuse, which stem from prosecutors’ allegations that Sanders abused three children, including a 14-day-old who suffered hemorrhaging that could cause permanent brain injury.

Rosalez did not specify what allegations Sanders would admit to. The defense attorney said attorneys had agreed to Sanders serving two to three years imprisonment on one count. Prosecutors agreed to cap their sentencing argument on a second count to eight years imprisonment and 20 years on a third count. The agreement also calls for sentencing in the case to run independently of the sexual abuse case.

Prosecutors will be free to argue for the three child abuse counts to run independently of one another, which means Sanders could face anywhere between two and 31 years behind bars in the child abuse case, depending on Johnson’s sentencing decisions. Because the two cases run independently, Sanders is looking at a combined sentence of between 14 and 51 years imprisonment.

Itzen and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri confirmed Rosalez’s description of the agreement.

The charges stem from between 2016 and 2017, and prosecutors have alleged Sanders beat a 6-year-old child over the head with a piece of hardened insulation and threw her against a wall and shook the 14-day-old — who was born prematurely — until the child went limp. Prosecutors on Tuesday did not describe the child’s current health status.

Sanders remained in Natrona County Detention Center custody Tuesday morning.

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Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson


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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