The Wyoming Supreme Court on Monday denied a man’s appeal of his 2017 conviction by jury for kidnapping and sexually abusing a 5-year-old Casper boy.
The decision by the state’s highest court is the latest appellate loss by Joshua Winters, 36, who remains incarcerated in Wyoming’s maximum security prison serving a sentence that totals as many as 115 years. Although Winters was represented by the public defender’s office at trial, he hired private lawyer Keith Nachbar to represent him on appeal and has twice argued that Rob Oldham, who then led Natrona County’s court-appointed lawyers, did not effectively represent him at trial.
In September, then-Natrona County District Court Judge Thomas Sullins denied Winters’ request for a new trial and ruled he did not show Oldham was ineffective. Following Sullins’ ruling, Winters took the same issues to the state’s highest court, requesting reversal of the judge’s decision.
In its Monday decision, the Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed Sullins’ determination and denied Winters’ four arguments alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. To show ineffective assistance, the court has to find that a lawyer at trial both demonstrated subpar performance and the underperformance likely changed the outcome of the case. In ruling against Winters, the appellate court found on three of the issues that Oldham’s performance was not deficient and that — even assuming it could be found deficient — it did not prejudice the outcome of the case against Winters.
On a fourth issue, that of the child’s testimony, the court did not directly address Oldham’s performance. The court made no comment on the accuracy of Sullins’ finding that Oldham was not deficient when he did not challenge the boy’s competency to take the stand. It instead addressed that issue only on the question of prejudice.
“Because (the child) was clearly competent to testify, Mr. Winters was not prejudiced by trial counsel’s failure to challenge his competency,” Justice Keith Kautz wrote in the court’s opinion.
The court also ruled against Winters on a series of other issues centered on Sullins’ decisions at trial. The Supreme Court found the district court judge, who has since retired, acted appropriately when he decided to allow prosecutors to present evidence at trial alleging Winters previously abused children and to sentence kidnapping and sexual abuse as two separate crimes, rather than merging the two because they have certain overlapping elements.
On Monday morning, Winters remained incarcerated in Wyoming State Penitentiary, the maximum-security prison in Rawlins, according to online corrections department records. He is serving 50-70 years for a single count of aggravated kidnapping. When he satisfies that sentence, he will then begin serving a 30- to 45-year sentence for the sexual abuse convictions, which were sentenced together.