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Rails to Trails suspect sentenced

Rails to Trails suspect sentenced

Apr 30, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

John Kalani Potter helped kill one person and permanently injure another person on the recreation path in 2013.

A judge meted out a stiff sentence Tuesday for one of the two boys who killed a man on the Rails to Trails path in September. The young man probably will have a chance to shorten his punishment, however.

Out of a maximum of 20 years in prison, District Court Judge Norman E. Young gave the defendant, John Kalani Potter, 16, of Riverton, 12 years to 18 years in prison for a manslaughter conviction, and a concurrent sentence of six years to 10 years for aiding and abetting aggravated assault.

The judge also required Potter to pay $12,000 in restitution to his victims.

Potter and his friend, Santana Mendoza, then 16, were charged for attacking David Ronald Moss Jr., 25, and Aleeah Crispin, on the recreation path near the All Nations trailer park on Sept. 4. The beating killed Moss and put Crispin in a coma.

Both defendants previously had pleaded guilty in exchange for lower charges and described their involvement.

Young recommended Potter for the Wyoming Department of Corrections Boot Camp, a six-month rehabilitation program for male offenders 18 years to 25 years old. If the defendant completes the program, the judge could shorten his sentence.

At the hearing in Lander District Court, Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett argued for the maximum sentences of 18 years to 20 years in prison for manslaughter and eight to 10 years for aiding and abetting aggravated assault.

Potter's attorney, Kerri Johnson, asked for a split sentence, a form of punishment that would have seen the defendant spend up to half his sentence outside of prison, and for a recommendation for Boot Camp.

Potter would have to wait until he is 18 to start the rehabilitation program.

The hardest part of sentencing was determining if a person was a "sheep or a goat," District Court Judge Norman E. Young said.

"I can't say he's a goat, I'm not going to sentence him as a goat," he said. "My belief is if he spends the next two years and a half behind bars...I'll know a little bit better where he's headed."

Moss's mother, Victoria Moss, described how she saw the consequences of Potter's crimes.

"You took away so much goodness and kindness. Aleeah and Davis both had big hearts and never hurt anyone," Victoria Moss said. I cried when I saw what was left of her. She is not the same."

Potter expressed remorse and apologized for his actions.

"I just want to say I'm sorry with all my heart to Moss and Crispin's family. I have should just told him 'no,'" he said. "I wish I could take it back."

Earlier, Johnson, Potter's lawyer, said Mendoza asked Potter to help attack the two victims, and Potter agreed in order to appear tough and to fit in.

Bennett said a long sentence for Potter would prevent further crimes and provide rehabilitation for the defendant. It would "serve as a message as well that the impetuous nature of youth needs to be metered. It is very clear they never intended to kill anybody, but that brings little solace to the victims' families," he said.

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