Thursday, April 1 Wyoming News Briefs


April 1, 2021

Fenn treasure hunter sentenced for damaging park cemetery

CODY (WNE) — A man who dug up a cemetery in Yellowstone National Park in search of the Forest Fenn treasure was sentenced to six months in prison, six months home detention and $31,566 in restitution on Wednesday.

Rodrick Craythorn, 52, of Syracuse, Utah, was sentenced by Judge Scott Skavdahl in Federal Court for crimes he committed in late 2019 and early 2020.

“Yellowstone is one of the country’s most popular national parks and we must do everything in our power to investigate and prosecute those who damage and destroy its natural and cultural resources,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “A national park is no place to stage an adult treasure hunt motivated by greed. The harmful actions of Mr. Craythorn, no matter the reason or intent, destroyed valuable archaeological resources that cannot be undone.”

According to Yellowstone, Craythorn was associated with 17 different sites of illegal excavation and damage to a historic grave inside the Fort Yellowstone cemetery that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark.

The U.S. Army was first dispatched to protect the Park in 1886 and at least 54 people were buried in the cemetery between 1888 and 1916, mostly Army employees and military personnel.

Thousands of people participated in Fenn’s search and a few even died looking for the spoils.


Prison sentence issued in child exploitation case

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne man convicted of sexual exploitation of a child was sentenced Monday in Laramie County District Court.

Michael R. Welty received a sentence of seven to nine years in prison from Laramie County District Judge Catherine Rogers, with credit for 296 days of time served.

Welty pleaded guilty Aug. 7 to one count of felony sexual exploitation of a child (creating/receiving child pornography) as part of a plea agreement, in the which the state agreed to argue for five to seven years of incarceration. After Welty was arrested Nov. 27 in Albany County for possession of a controlled substance and shoplifting, which violated the conditions of the agreement, the state said it would deviate from the plea agreement and pursue the maximum imposed sentence for sexual exploitation of a child, which is five to 12 years in prison.

Welty’s attorney, Erika Smith, said Welty himself suggested a sentence of five years of supervised probation, with a suspended sentence of eight to 10 years in prison, which he saw as a chance to prove he could be successful on probation.

Rogers rejected that suggestion.

“I am struggling with how to process Mr. Welty’s proposal that, somehow, an individual with his criminal history and the nature of the offense in this case ... would say, ‘Give me one more chance, and then if it doesn’t work out, throw the book at me.’ Mr. Welty, you present as an individual who should have the book thrown at you right now,” the judge said.


Judge tells voyeurism victims they did nothing wrong

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Fourth Judicial District Judge John Fenn reassured the victims in a case heard Tuesday they did nothing wrong.

“You have no guilt, no fault,” Fenn said. “That’s entirely on the defendant in this matter.”

Fenn’s statements followed testimony and victim impact statements given in the matter of William Ziska, who in January pleaded no contest to 12 counts of felony voyeurism and one count of sexual exploitation of children.

The man installed a security camera in a bathroom and observed juveniles and adults via video recording for about one month.

In their statements to the court, an adult victim expressed feeling like she failed the children involved and a juvenile victim indicated she no longer felt safe.

Initially, Ziska pleaded not guilty to the charges, but later adjusted his plea in what his attorney said was a move to prevent the victims’ from having to testify in open court.

The maximum incarceration time Ziska faced was 70 years. The prosecuting attorney recommended a minimum of 22 years in prison, while the defense argued for a four to five year sentenced suspended in lieu of probation.

Fenn, on Tuesday, sentenced Ziska to 1.5 to 2 years of incarceration for each of the 12 voyeurism charges and seven to 10 years for the exploitation charge. All of the terms will be served concurrent to one another.


John Wayne footage at center of Buffalo Bill dispute

POWELL (WNE) — A former staffer at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West claims the institution failed to return some of her valuable personal possessions after firing her in 2019.

The center, however, says that’s not true.

In a pending suit filed in Park County District Court, a former assistant curator at the center, Bonnie Smith, asks for various property back, plus economic damages.

Smith’s complaint says the materials include “incredibly rare and valuable items.”

However, in a March 18 response, the Center of the West denied that it has wrongfully retained or failed to return any of Smith’s possessions.

Her lawsuit specifically references film footage of John Wayne’s 1976 visit to Cody. The legendary Western actor served as the grand marshal of the Cody Stampede Parade that year and visited the then-Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

Smith says she loaned the center two Super 8 films of Wayne in September 2014, apparently so that the footage could be digitized. She says she’s still owed those films and a list of other items that include: books, children’s activity books, her Rolodex, personal research and notes on educational programs, two external hard drives, weather data, printed articles, posters, miscellaneous notes, a box of personal contacts and cards, a tote of personal purchases and miscellaneous office decor.

In a response filed by Cheyenne attorneys Amanda Esch and Grant Rogers, the Center of the West says Smith did bring personal items to the center and she did loan items to the institution, but they “were then returned.”


Cody couple accused of transporting thousands in meth

CODY (WNE) — A local couple arrested last week is being accused of transporting thousands of dollars of meth to Cody from Denver.

Authorities say they found 12.5 ounces of meth inside a Ziploc container inside a panel of a vehicle being driven by Philip Dobbins, 43, and Natosha Martin, 37.

Park County Prosecuting Attorney Jack Hatfield said there will likely be further charges filed against Dobbins.

Martin is facing felonies for delivery of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance in an amount larger than three grams, and her third or subsequent offense for possession of a controlled substance, charges carrying up to 32 years in prison and $45,000 in fines.

Dobbins is facing felony charges for two counts of his third or subsequent offense for possession of a controlled substance, and a misdemeanor for driving under the influence of controlled substances, charges carrying up to 10.5 years in prison and $10,750 in fines.

On March 23, the couple was pulled over on Lt. Childers Street after crossing into the shoulder. Cody Police found Dobbins acting erratically and agitated.

A car search quickly revealed multiple forms of marijuana including liquid THC, resin and a plant.

Police also found multiple syringes and a glass pipe with a large amount of meth residue. Dobbins was arrested at the scene but Martin was allowed to leave.

Their 2002 Cadillac DeVille was towed and searched. The meth was found in a gallon-sized baggie wrapped in a small blanket in the driver’s side floorboard of the vehicle.


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