Wyoming News Briefs, Friday, March 5


March 4, 2021

State Rep. Chuck Gray announces 2022 primary bid against Cheney

CHEYENNE (WNE) – A Republican state lawmaker from Casper announced his bid Thursday to challenge U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in the 2022 primary election, becoming the latest GOP candidate to challenge the congresswoman following her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump.

State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who joined the Wyoming Legislature in 2017, announced his bid on social media Thursday morning.

“It’s time for a leader who actually listens to the hard-working people of Wyoming, and not to the D.C elitists,” Gray said in a tweet. “Join me on my journey as I seek the Republican nomination for the United States Congress.”

His announcement was accompanied by a video featuring shots of Wyoming, with a voiceover warning “our way of life is under attack.”

“We can count on President Trump to stand up for Wyoming, but not everyone has stood up for him,” states the video’s narrator. “That’s why Liz Cheney’s impeachment vote was a betrayal, another example of how Liz has lost her way, acting like she’s from Washington, D.C., not Wyoming.”

Gray, who has also been a vocal critic of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has sponsored several bills this session championing conservative causes, including voter ID regulations, anti-abortion proposals and a ban on sanctuary cities in Wyoming.

With his announcement, Gray joins a growing field of Republicans aiming to challenge Cheney in the 2022 primary. State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, announced his campaign against Cheney in January, and former Pavilion Mayor Marissa Selvig has also filed campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.


How to testify virtually at the Legislature

JACKSON (WNE) — Testifying at the state capital used to be an arduous process, involving a drive to Cheyenne, often through the snow. A lot of things to come out of the pandemic have been terrible, but one positive is that the Wyoming Legislature now allows virtual testimony.

The schedule of meetings and sessions can be found at WyoLeg.gov. Click on the “Legislative Meetings” link under calendars.

To testify, go to the calendar and find the committee or chamber where you’d like to speak. At the right of the screen is a button that says “testify.” Clicking on that will take you to the Zoom meeting in which you can say your piece.

Once in the meeting, use the raise hand feature and when the time for public comment arises, staff will allow you to speak. You must have your video and microphone turned on to give public comment.

Once you’re done, the staff will mute you again.

If you just want to watch, the government is asking you to watch on its YouTube channel. Those are available by clicking on the links to watch a floor session or committee meeting live.


Shield law proposal gains initial support in Wyoming House of Representatives

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming House of Representatives gave initial approval Thursday to a bill that would prevent journalists from being sued to disclose their confidential sources, a protection often referred to as a shield law.

House Bill 103, which gained committee approval Monday, would protect journalists in Wyoming from being held in contempt of court for refusing to disclose a confidential source or piece of information during a legal proceeding.

If approved, Wyoming would join 48 other states that have some version of shield law in place, with Hawaii being the only other state to lack any protection after its shield law expired in 2015.

During testimony in the House Judiciary Committee, journalists from several Wyoming news outlets spoke of the need for a shield law, arguing it is essential for investigative reporting and transparency.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, told his colleagues Thursday on the House floor that a shield law would also protect sources who otherwise may not be willing to speak about a controversial topic.

“You’re more likely to say some bad things are going on in your company or the government or business if your anonymity can be protected, what we call ‘off the record,’” Zwonitzer said.

There was little debate over the proposal on the floor, as lawmakers advanced the bill by a voice vote shortly after adopting the amendment. Last year, a similar shield law proposal fell three votes short of being introduced in the House.

House Bill 103 will need two more votes in its originating chamber before it could head to the Senate for further consideration.


Man sentenced to 206-230 years in cold case

LARAMIE (WNE) – Mark Douglas Burns, 70, of Ogden, Utah, was sentenced Feb. 17 by Albany County Second Judicial District Court Judge Tori Kricken for the 1996 sexual assault of a Laramie resident.

Burns pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual assault in the first degree; one count of burglary; and one count of kidnapping-confinement. He received a sentence of 206 – 230 years in prison.

In May 2015, after DNA entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) linked nine cases to the same offender, several law enforcement agencies in Utah and Wyoming created a task force to collaborate on their cold case investigations.

Through the collaborative efforts of the task force, and the assistance of the Cold Justice program, Mark Douglas Burns was arrested Sept. 25, 2019 in Ogden, Utah.

Joel Senior, a former Laramie Police Department Detective who had been working on Laramie’s cold case for several years, worked with the task force and traveled to Utah with Laramie Police Department Officer Matt Leibovitz for the arrest of Burns and collection of evidence.


Marbleton man reaches plea agreement in immoral liberties with minor case

PINEDALE (WNE) — A Marbleton man charged with taking immoral and immodest liberties with a girl younger than 17 will not face a jury this spring.

Donald K. Woodward was charged in July 2020 with felony third-degree sexual abuse of a minor and pleaded not guilty on Dec. 3 in 9th District Court.

The girl is from another county and visited Woodward, a family friend, to celebrate her birthday, according to court records.

Sublette County Detective Travis Lanning’s affidavit said the girl was “very adamant about coming home” and said Woodward had shown her his genital area and showered with her. Woodward did not touch her, but she was upset and felt sick and told her parents, it says.

A Feb. 24 witness competency hearing for the girl turned into a status conference among 9th District Judge Marv Tyler, Sublette County Deputy Attorney Clayton Melinkovich and Woodward’s private attorney Geoffrey Phillips.

According to the plea agreement filed Feb. 16, Woodward will plead guilty to the charge with a recommended sentence of five years of supervised probation and no contact with minor children except for family.

When he was charged, Woodward was 75.

Since then he was stricken badly with COVID19 and required surgeries after a broken hip and a fall injuring his head, records show. His attorney had requested continuances of several months before Woodward was considered able to appear for his arraignment.

The maximum penalty for third-degree sexual abuse of a minor is 15 years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.


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