Ranch worker gets horse theft re-trial

CHEYENNE, Wyoming, Oct 22 — The Wyoming Supreme Court this week reversed its decision to convict Johnson County ranch worker, Daniel Williams, of stealing a horse, after three errors in his trial were discovered.

Danial Williams was originally convicted of larceny, felony, and unauthorized use of a ranch pickup by a jury, but the Supreme Court has now ordered a re-trial.

Williams and Jay Dunford both began working and living on a ranch in the summer of 2001 as employers of its owner Gladys Esponda. They often socialized together in their bunkhouse and traveled the rodeo circuit together.

At the trial, Dunford said that they had stolen saddles from Gladys Esponda’s ranch, which they sold at a tack sale to finance visits to rodeos. Dunford testified that the theft was Williams’ idea, and that they split the proceeds. Williams denied the accusation.

The Supreme Court said that the first prosecution irregularity was that the prosecutor failed to notify the defense attorney that the stolen saddles were going to be a subject of the state’s case.

Johnson County District Judge John Brackley gave no explanation of his reasoning in allowing admission of evidence of Williams’ prior bad acts as required, it added.

Dunford also stated under oath, that he and Williams stole a gray horse owned by Gladys Esponda using a pickup owned by the ranch to take the horse trailer to Sheridan.

In his testimony, Dunford pleaded guilty to stealing the horse and was given a suspended prison term at the Wyoming State Penitentiary.

Although Williams’ defense attorney did not object to Dunford’s statement, the Supreme Court said it was error.

A defendant’s right to a fair trial “embraces a right not to be convicted, in whole or in part, upon the guilty pleas of his conspirators,” said the opinion written by Chief Justice William Hill.

A third error was about whether Williams volunteered his version of the alleged horse theft when in custody in Johnson County. Williams said he had not.

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