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Defendant says 'not guilty' to murder charge in Lander death

Nov 21, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

The defendant accused of shooting and killing his cousin and of sexually assaulting a woman in September pleaded his innocence in court Tuesday afternoon.

John Thomas Hereford, 24, of Lander, said he was not guilty of second-degree murder, kidnapping-confinement, and two first-degree sexual assault charges.

Hereford is charged in the Sept. 11 shooting death of Travis Armajo, 32, of Lander, at a house Hereford was renting in the 900 block of North Second Street in Lander. Hereford also faces charges alleging he confined Armajo's fiancee and sexually assaulted her. Authorities say the sexual assault occurred a short time after the shooting at a house roughly two blocks from where police found Armajo's body.

At Tuesday's 25-minute arraignment hearing, 9th Judicial District Court Judge Norman E. Young told Hereford that a second-degree murder charge asserts Hereford "purposely and maliciously, but without premeditation," killed Armajo. If convicted of the charge, Young said Hereford could be sentenced to between 20 years and life in prison.

Young said the kidnapping charge also carries a prison sentence of 20 years to life. He said each first-degree sexual assault count is punishable by five to 50 years.

Fines can also be imposed if Hereford is convicted of some of the charges.

Young set Hereford's trial for March 25.

Hereford has remained incarcerated at the Fremont County Detention Center in Lander since his September arrest. In earlier proceedings, Circuit Court Judge Robert Denhardt denied setting bond for Hereford.

Hereford's public defender, Kate McKay, said she wasn't going to argue for a bond modification but would seek to change the list of people with whom Hereford is allowed to have contact.

McKay said the current list shows 12 individuals with whom Hereford is allowed to communicate, both indirectly and directly. She asked for the list to include the defendant's mother, girlfriend and sister.

Fremont County deputy Kathy Kavanagh pointed out Hereford's mother and girlfriend are material witnesses in the case. Also, the sister lives with the mother, which Kavanagh said poses the risk of facilitating communication between Hereford and his mother.

According to court testimony, Hereford's mother reported the shooting to police, and Hereford's girlfriend was with Hereford the night of the shooting.

"I think it's very reasonable," Kavanagh argued about the contact restrictions.

McKay said Hereford's mother and girlfriend made recorded statements to police.

"If they change their testimony that will be clearly obvious," McKay said, adding visits at the jail are recorded as well.

After some discussion concerning the court's authority to restrict contact, Young denied McKay's request.

"No contact with any witness in this case, indirect or direct," Young said, before adjourning the hearing.

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