A judge Tuesday afternoon declined to allow a lawyer to present evidence challenging a search warrant in the case against a Casper man, who is accused of sexually assaulting two mentally disabled women assigned to his care at a group home and of raping a 15-year-old girl in a private home.
Judge Catherine Wilking issued the ruling from the bench in response to Trae D. Smith’s request for a hearing to challenge a warrant that police obtained while investigating the allegations of sexual abuse of the child. After police served the warrant, they did not find the video of abuse they’d expected to find but instead found video of Smith sexually assaulting the two women, according to prosecutors.
Smith worked at the facility at the time, but he has since been dismissed from the job and is incarcerated in the Natrona County Detention Center. A lawyer for the group home said following announcement of the charges that Smith lost his job in connection with a series of criminal cases tied to the warrant.
In the sex crime case that Wilking is proceeding over, Smith faces seven felonies: three counts of first-degree sexual assault, two counts of second-degree sexual abuse and two counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult.
Although prosecutors initially charged Smith with a total of eight counts in the case, late Tuesday they dismissed a single count of first-degree sexual assault. Court documents do not state the reason for the dismissal, but Assistant District Attorney Kevin Taheri told the Star-Tribune following Tuesday’s hearing that further review of evidence indicated the charge wouldn’t stick.
Smith also faces both a felony and a misdemeanor charge related to methamphetamine possession in a separate case overseen by a different judge. The felony count alleges he endangered a child by allowing them around the drug. Smith has pleaded not guilty in both cases.
Joe Hampton, the lawyer who represents Smith on court appointment, earlier this summer asked to have the sex crime case divided into separate proceedings of four counts each. He argued the two sexual assault charges and two counts of abuse of a vulnerable adult — all of which relate to the adult women — should be separated from the charges relating to the teen girl. Taheri opposed the argument, and Wilking at a July hearing sided with the prosecutor.
At the same hearing, the judge granted Hampton an extension to file the request for suppression of the search warrant, from which the drug case and four counts in the sex case stem.
The filing asked Wilking to allow a hearing to determine if the police detective misled the judge who signed off on the warrant. Hampton argued that Detective Adrian White had intentionally left out information that would have kept a circuit court judge from approving a warrant.
On Tuesday, Wilking first heard from Hampton and Assistant District Attorney Trevor Schenk — who is handling the drug case — as they argued the merits of such a hearing.
The defense attorney told Wilking that White left out information that might have compromised the credibility of a witness whose account supported the warrant. White, Hampton argued, should have told the judge the 15-year-old’s account was incompatible with the witness, who told police she had seen video of Smith raping the girl.
Schenk argued Hampton’s statements were not supported by evidence. The prosecutor argued that even if White had written the warrant request as Hampton wanted, the detective would have provided probable cause for a judge to sign off on it.
Wilking agreed with the prosecutor and said the defense lawyer did not provide proof of his allegations to warrant a hearing. She likewise ruled in favor of Schenk on the issue of probable cause, stating even a rewrite of the warrant would provide probable cause for police to seize the phone, search it and find the videos. Those rulings denied Hampton the requested hearing.
Smith remained in custody late Tuesday afternoon.