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Brown brothers to serve seven years for 2006 beating death of Riverton man

Jan 17, 2014 - From staff reports

Brothers Alan and Vernon Brown each have been sentenced to 84 months in prison in connection with the 2006 death of Tad Paul Barnson in Fremont County.

They will serve out their sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, per their request.

The Northern Arapaho tribal members also were sentenced to three years of supervised release following confinement and ordered to pay a $100 special assessment. An appropriate restitution amount will be determined within 60 days.

The charge for Alan Brown, 61, is involuntary manslaughter and aiding and abetting. Vernon Brown, 54, is charged with involuntary manslaughter. The shared charge states that the brothers knowingly, and with gross negligence amounting to wanton and reckless disregard for human life, caused the death of Barnson and did so while committing an unlawful act not amounting to a felony -- namely assaulting, striking, beating and wounding Barnson.

Barnson's mother, LaRita Barnson, spoke on behalf of her son during sentencing Jan. 9, according to court documents.

Lesser charge

The brothers initially had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder after their arrest in May. They pleaded guilty to the lesser charges in October as part of a plea deal. During the October hearing, both men said they could not remember the events of the night Barnson died. Alan Brown said he was intoxicated and did not see Barnson's death. The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming has recommended both defendants participate in drug treatment.

Barnson originally was from Idaho Falls, Idaho, but he resided in and around Riverton at the time of his death. The Browns are lifelong Wind River Indian Reservation inhabitants, though they are not known to have a permanent residence. Their crime occurred, in part, on the reservation.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Fremont County Sheriff's Department.

Kidnapping

Previously, the Browns also faced charges that they kidnapped Barnson, but those allegations were dismissed based on the statute of limitations. The kidnapping allegedly occurred on May 6, 2006 -- more than seven years before the Browns were indicted for the crime. The statute of limitations bars prosecution after five years have passed, according to court documents.

U.S. Attorney Kerry J. Jacobson wrote that the Browns "lured Tad Barnson into Alan Brown's van on the premise of 'making a run' for more alcoholic beverages."

She said the men drove to a remote location and, while driving, began assaulting Barnson in the van. When they reached the remote location east of Riverton -- known locally as Double Dives -- Jacobson said the Browns "violently assaulted" Barnson with various weapons and "left him for dead."

Because Barnson lived a "somewhat transient" lifestyle, Jacobson said no one reported him missing for about four months. An investigation later revealed that Barnson had last been seen in the company of Alan, Vernon and Colleen Brown, leaving the area of Pronghorn Lane on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Colleen Brown is the daughter of Vernon Brown and the niece of Alan Brown.

"Investigators became aware of Colleen Brown's identity when her husband, who was incarcerated, told investigators she knew what happened to Tad Barnson," Jacobson wrote. "When interviewed, Colleen Brown told investigators she had been with Alan and Vernon Brown when Barnson joined them in their van for the purpose of getting more alcohol."

Colleen Brown said she was present during the assault on Barnson in the Double Dives area, Jacobson continued.

"Although she wanted to stay with Tad Barnson (after the attack), Alan and Vernon Brown forced Colleen Brown back into the van," Jacobson wrote.

"They left Tad Barnson at Double Dives, saying he likely would not make it through the night."

Law enforcement searched the Double Dives location in 2006, but they did not find any physical evidence tied to the crime, according to court documents.

Nearly seven years later, on March 10 a hiker reportedly found Barnson's skeletal remains about two miles from the spot Colleen Brown had identified as the location of the assault.

Jurisdiction

Investigators faced difficulty when determining whether Barnson's death took place on the Wind River Indian Reservation. At one point, federal judges seemed likely to dismiss the murder charges against the Browns due to lack of jurisdiction. The state was going to pursue that case instead, while the federal government planned to address the kidnapping charges.

John Powell, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wyoming, said the October plea deal addressed the jurisdictional issues; the state did not pursue murder charges against the Browns.

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Wind River Indian Reservation