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First-degree murder trial ordered for two brothers in '06 death

Jul 30, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Brothers Alan and Vernon Lee Brown of Fremont County are headed to trial in November in connection with the 2006 death of Tad Paul Barnson.

Barnson's skeletal remains were found in March of this year east of Riverton on the Wind River Indian Reservation. His death has been ruled a homicide due to blunt force and penetrating trauma, according to the Fremont County Coroner's Office.

Officials said the man was 47 at the time of his death and had been living near Riverton, though he was originally from Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Kidnapping

Alan Brown, 61, and Vernon Brown, 54, both members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, have been in custody since they were arrested on Tuesday, May 28, for first-degree murder and aiding and abetting related to Barnson's death.

A superseding indictment filed July 24 charges that the Browns "did knowingly and unlawfully kidnap, abduct, seize, confine, inveigle, and carry away (Barnson) for some purpose or benefit, resulting in (his) death."

The men caused "serious injuries" through "violent assault" and left Barnson in a remote area with no means to access medical care. The charges also allege the defendants "did knowingly aid and abet each other in the commission of said offense(s)."

Officials refer to the Brown brothers as inhabitants of the reservation, though the men are not believed to have any permanent residence. Both men face life imprisonment or death, and they could be ordered to pay restitution according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Potential witnesses

The Browns pleaded not guilty to the charges against them on May 31. During the court proceedings, Vernon Brown was ordered to have no direct, indirect or third-party contact with any potential witnesses in the case, including Coleen Brown and Gary Guffy.

November trial

On July 23, the Hon. Scott W. Skavdahl of the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming granted a continuance in the case, scheduling the Browns' trial for 9 a.m. Nov. 12, with two weeks allotted for the proceedings.

A jury will be pulled from Fremont County, documents state. The deadline for written plea agreements is Nov. 1.

In requesting the continuance, the Browns' defense team cited a need to use expert witnesses that will require reports that may take "significant" time to prepare. The U.S. government reportedly agreed with the continuance "due to additional forensic inspection needed."

The trial initially had been scheduled for Aug. 5.

Previous charges

On June 20, the United States documented information about the Browns' criminal histories. According to court documents, Alan Brown was convicted in of manslaughter in 1974, and Vernon Brown was convicted of an assault in 1985. Both charges were made in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.

Barnson

Coroner Ed McAuslan said Barnson's autopsy showed multiple wounds, though McAuslan didn't know what kind of weapon may have been used in the incident.

"There was just some indication that there was a penetrating type of wound into (a) scapula," McAuslan said of Barnson's shoulder blade.

The coroner's description of the deceased reports Barnson was a grey-haired white man weighing 180 pounds and measuring 6 feet, 4 inches tall. His skeletal remains reportedly were identified using dental records.

Barnson's mother, LaRita Barnson of Idaho Falls, who has been in contact with The Ranger, previously indicated that the remains belonged to her son. She believes Tad Barnson was pushed over a cliff by a suspect who has already been identified by law enforcement. She said her son's bloodied jacket was found near his body when his remains were discovered in March.

The coroner's report states that all of Tad Barnson's clothing and other evidence found at the scene was retained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to LaRita Barnson, Tad Barnson called home not long before his death and told his mother that he was in trouble and wouldn't be able to contact her for some time. She said she offered to find him a place to stay, but he said he would take care of the situation himself. She says she never heard from him again.