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Brothers accused of first-degree murder both say 'not guilty'

Jun 3, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

The two brothers charged with the first-degree murder of a man whose skeletal remains were found on the Wind River Indian Reservation entered not guilty pleas to crimes at arraignments Friday.

During separate hearings at the U.S. Attorney's Office District of Wyoming branch in Lander, Vernon Lee Brown, 54, and Alan Brown, 61, waived their right for detention hearings.

Federal Magistrate Teresa McKee set a joint trial for the brothers at 9 a.m. on Aug. 5 in Casper.

Police arrested the two men on May 28 for first-degree murder aiding and abetting charges in connection with the death of Tad Paul Barnson.

The victim's skeletal remains were found March 10 on the reservation east of Riverton. He had been missing since 2006.

It's alleged Alan and Vernon Brown caused serious injuries to Barnson through violent assault on or about May 6, 2006. The two are believed to have then left Barnson on the reservation in a remote area with no means to access medical care.

According to court documents, the brothers committed the crime "willfully, deliberately, maliciously and with premeditation and malice aforethought."

First-degree murder is punishable by life imprisonment or death. However, prior to each hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kerry Jacobson, representing the government, submitted an amended indictment that removed the death penalty as a possible punishment.

McKee said because the crime allegedly occurred in Indian Country, the United States could not seek death because the tribes' governing body of the reservation has not opted into death penalty as an option of punishment.

James T. Whiting represented Vernon Brown, and Jeffrey Stanbury represented Alan Brown at Friday's proceedings.

McKee approved no-contact orders with witnesses, both directly and indirectly. She emphasized the order includes family members of the Browns who are identified witnesses or may be in the future.

Vernon and Alan Brown told McKee they both were laborers. Vernon Brown completed school through his junior year, while his older brother told the Judge he stopped after the eighth grade.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman John R. Powell in a news release said Alan and Vernon Brown are inhabitants of the Wind River Indian Reservation, but are not believed to have a permanent residence.

Powell said Barnson, 47, originally was from Idaho Falls, Idaho, but resided in and around Riverton at the time of his death.

Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan said Barnson's death was due to blunt-force and penetrating trauma. McAuslan said an autopsy showed multiple wounds, but he didn't know what kind of weapon may have been used in the incident.

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Wind River Indian Reservation