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Teen Hudson suspect pleads 'not guilty,' setting stage for trial

Oct 10, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A judge has set a trial date for the last defendant in the Hudson homicides case.

Jude Blackburn, 17, is scheduled to appear before Wyoming 9th District Court Judge Norman E. Young on Feb. 10, nearly two years after charges were filed in the prosecution.

Lawyers for Blackburn have asked the Wyoming Supreme Court to take another look at the case, raising the possibility of another delay.

A round-faced Blackburn appeared at his arraignment Wednesday in a tan-colored jumpsuit emblazoned with "Sweetwater County Detention Center," the facility now holding local juvenile offenders. He only spoke to say "yeah" or "no" in response to the judge's questions.

Blackburn pleaded not guilty to the nine charges against him: one count of first-degree arson, two counts each of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.

In March 2012, prosecutors charged Blackburn in the Nov. 15, 2011, slayings of Eric Likes, 42, and Elva Charlotte Quiver, 20, both of Hudson, and the burning of their trailer two days later.

Prosecutors allege Blackburn hit Likes in the head twice with a dresser drawer as the Hudson man, who already had been stabbed multiple times, lay in the hallway of his Hudson home.

Deputy Fremont County prosecutor Patrick LeBrun said the murder charges ordinarily carry the possibility of capital punishment, but they do not in Blackburn's case because of his age. His youth also ensures he would have the possibility of parole if convicted.

Blackburn was 15 when the homicides occurred.

Writ of review

Young said he set the trial date despite defense attorneys filing a petition for a writ of review with the Supreme Court Sept. 30 because he was concerned about honoring Blackburn's constitutional right to a speedy trial.

"The court takes the position that doesn't automatically stay these proceedings," Young said.

If the high court decides to hear the writ, LeBrun said the district court case might be postponed.

$1 million cash bond

Young also decided to continue Blackburn's $1 million cash bond, almost ensuring he will stay in custody while his case resolves.

Blackburn's court-appointed attorney, Robert Stepans, of Teton County, asked the judge to lower the bond to a level Blackburn might be able to meet.

His client has "essentially no financial means", Stepans said, so Blackburn would have trouble meeting even a significantly reduced bond.

His client had been in jail for more than a year, though, and had been doing well in custody, the defense lawyer said.

LeBrun argued the bond be continued noting the severity of the charges, and Young agreed.

"It is a bond in line with the seriousness of the offenses," Young said.

He also indicated he did not think the charges are frivolous.

"I've taken the plea of the codefendants, and I've heard their factual basis," Young said, referring to testimony the other defendants in the case gave to substantiate their guilty pleas.

Blackburn's alleged accomplices already have settled their cases. Laziur Stephen Hanway Jr., of Ethete, was sentenced in March to two concurrent life in prison sentences after pleading guilty to two second-degree murder charges.

In May, Joseph Jude Jenkins, of Arapahoe, received 70 years for his role in the murders, and his wife, Samantha June Hanway, of Arapahoe, will spend 25 to 50 years in prison for her part.

Ryan Blake Hanway, of Riverton, agreed to a plea deal and in May was sentenced to eight to 16 years in prison

Tried as an adult

Issues -- including determining if Blackburn was fit to stand trial and could be tried as an adult --dragged out proceedings in his case. In August, Young decided Blackburn was fit to stand trial.

If the court found him unfit, Blackburn would have received education and therapy to rehabilitate him, a process that could take months or years.

A month later, the judge ruled that prosecutors could try Blackburn as an adult.

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