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Charges dropped in meth case; lawyers fail to reach a deal
Jan 24, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Attorneys' mistakes left few options for continuing to prosecute the case against a Riverton man arrested during a county-wide drug bust in May, a judge has determined. As a result, Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett dropped a conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine charge against the man.
Defendant Anthony Hernandez said the judge was frustrated in part because the state does not have evidence supporting the charges.
"If they had something on me I'd be in jail with Tim Pitt," he said, referring to the alleged leader of a methamphetamine distribution ring who pleaded guilty to federal drug charges in December.
"Now I get my bond money back, I'm not on bond anymore, and I'm set free," Hernandez said.
The charges were dismissed Wednesday, but Bennett indicated that they might be refiled.
An affidavit in Hernandez's case alleges he was a part of Pitt's organization, and the two men were arrested at about the same time as five others law enforcement were part of the group. The five have all pleaded guilty to drug charges in line with plea agreements.
Hernandez said he was not part of Pitt's organization and was arrested because of his history and because he communicated with someone in the meth ring. Hernandez said he has been in prison twice for delivering meth.
Prosecutors have him on tape communicating with someone in the meth ring, Hernandez said, but in the call he did not agree to sell drugs or give anyone money for drugs.
"When I got this lawyer, he said, 'you're in jail for nothing,'" Hernandez said, referring to his attorney Bert Ahlstrom, of Cheyenne.
"I'm having trouble understanding why I should keep this matter alive," Tyler said at the hearing.
Hernandez had a jury trial set for Jan. 6, but his attorney filed a motion Dec. 27 to delay the trial.
At the Jan. 22 hearing, Ahlstrom and Bennett both said they were confident they would reach a plea agreement eventually.
Judge Tyler replied that they had missed the deadline for filing a plea agreement ahead of the trial. They could file a deal late if they had a good reason and explained it in open court or in the judge's chambers at the time they enter the agreement, the judge said.
The lawyers were not ready to file an agreement because of reasons he did not want to discuss in open court, Ahlstrom said. He asked if the lawyers could talk to the judge behind closed doors.
Unless they had reached an agreement, they had to speak in open court, Tyler said. Additionally, his schedule would not allow him to hold a trial for Hernandez by Feb. 8 , the deadline to satisfy his right to a speedy trial.
Despite the defendant's claims, a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations in an affidavit special agent stated he had evidence linking Hernandez to the Pitt group.
The document mentions several phone calls between the defendant and Pitt law enforcement taped in which they discuss drug transactions with code words.
"Tomorrow is our day. Bring your swimming trunks, bring all the swimming trunks," Pitt said in a May 3 voice mail to Hernandez.
The next day Pitt told Hernandez, "The 'guide' called, and they are not going to be able to go 'fly fishing,'" according to the affidavit.
Nevertheless, Hernandez said Lander Circuit Court Judge B. Denhardt did not think the state had strong evidence and decreased Hernandez's bail requirement.
The day after he was arrested, May 23, Denhardt set Hernandez's bond at $250,000 cash. On July 10, the judge lowered it to $5,000.
Motion to dismiss
After Tyler said did not see how the case could proceed, Bennett spoke with Ahlstrom and made a motion to dismiss charges against Hernandez without prejudice. Dismissing without prejudice would allow the state to refile a charge against Hernandez in the future, Bennett said.
He also moved to return Hernandez's bond money.
Tyler granted both motions.
Tyler also took issue with how the lawyers called off the January trial.
"Nobody even bothered to call me," Tyler said. "I can't believe you went down to the Clerk of District Court and told them to not call the trial, and you didn't call me."
In an interview, Ahlstrom said that on Dec. 27, a Friday, he sent the motion to continue the trial to the Fremont County Clerk of District Clerk's Office. He expected the clerk's office to communicate with Tyler, whose offices are in Pinedale, and thought Bennett would talk to Tyler the following Monday, Dec, 30.
In the hearing Bennett said weather kept him out of he office Dec. 30.
The judge was also frustrated the attorneys had not included him in discussions of a deal.
"I'm a little bit flat-footed there's every confidence a plea agreement will be reached, " Tyler said. "Apparently I haven't needed to know until today."