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Defiant killer gets 50 years to life for murder and assault in Lander

Nov 13, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A Lander man convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping will spend the next 50 years or the rest of his life in prison after his sentencing Wednesday in District Court in Lander.

Defendant John Thomas Hereford remained defiant to the end. As Fremont County Sheriff's Office deputies led him out of the courtroom after he was sentenced, he shouted, "Congratulations, you got your conviction!" to Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett.

District Court Judge Norman E. Young gave Hereford 50 years to life in prison for second-degree murder and the same sentence for kidnapping. The defendant received another 45- to 50-year sentence for a first-degree sexual assault, and all three terms are to run concurrently.

On Aug. 2, a jury found Hereford guilty of killing Travis Armajo and kidnapping and sexually assaulting Armajo's girlfriend after a night of drinking Sept. 11, 2012. The panel found the defendant not guilty of a second count of sexual assault involving the same victim and events.

Before giving his sentence, Young said he considered societal factors contributing to the crime and the defendant's character and his age. The nature of the crimes, however, weighed on the other side of the scale.

"The enormity of it, just the brutality of it and viciousness stand in stark contrast to the picture the family paints of this defendant," Young said.

Half a dozen members of Hereford's family spoke at the sentencing Wednesday. They all described the 28-year-old man as responsible, kind and loving.

And as he was almost through the door leaving the courtroom, one called out, "We love you, John."

"I love you too," he responded.

Several relatives said not all of the facts of the case came out in the trial and maintained Hereford was incapable of killing Armajo.

In his decision, Young struck a course between the requests from the defense attorney and prosecutors.

Bennett asked for a total of a life sentence plus 45 to 50 years in prison. He requested concurrent life sentences for both the murder and kidnapping charges and a 45- to-50-year sentence for the sexual assault to begin after the other sentences were completed.

"Travis Armajo was a human being, and John Thomas Hereford killed him," Bennett said. "For all the good things (Hereford's family) argued we're going to take away from them and John Hereford, they conveniently left out what was taken from Travis Armajo."

Defense lawyer Bob Horn requested 20 to 30 years for the murder charge and the same for the kidnapping count. He asked for five to 15 years for the sexual assault charge and for all three sentences to run at the same time.

Horn said a 20-year sentence would give Hereford the chance for redemption that life in prison would not. Hereford's lack of education, the role alcohol contributed to the crimes, the lack of a clear motive and Hereford's character also are mitigating factors.

"We understand John is not fit to be at large now," Horn said. "But what about the next stage? John (Hereford) will be a different man at 45 than he is at 35. When John's emotion's change, body has changed and the world has changed, why should he be allowed to be out?"

On top of the prison sentence, Young ordered Hereford pay $1,065 in restitution to the Wyoming Division of Victims Services and gave him credit against his sentence for 429 days served in custody. The defendant has the opportunity to appeal his convictions and sentence, the judge explained.

Individuals working in the criminal justice system have to move on from cases after they are settled, but doing so in Hereford's case would be hard, Young said.

"When I reflect on the (sexual assault) victim's testimony ... it's not so easy for this judge to put that aside," he said. "It was just horrific."

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