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Young men charged in Clark murders waive preliminary hearing

Two young Cody men charged with murdering three Clark residents agreed Wednesday to let the charges against them proceed toward a trial.

Shortly before a scheduled preliminary hearing was to determine whether there was enough evidence against Tanner B. Vanpelt and Stephen F. Hammer for the charges to be taken to trial, their attorneys announced they were waiving their rights to the hearings. That means all 11 felony charges against Vanpelt and Hammer go to Park County’s District Court, where the 19-year-olds will next enter pleas to the allegations. Assuming they plead not guilty, a trial will then be scheduled.

The two teens are accused of murdering Ildiko Freitas, 40, her mother, 70-year-old Hildegard Volgyesi, and her father, 69-year-old Janos Volgyesi, on March 2 at their home in Clark. Hammer, who allegedly played a lesser role in the killings, knew the family from when he lived in the Clark area.

Based on statements Vanpelt and Hammer allegedly made after their arrest, a charging affidavit from Park County Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Patterson says Vanpelt pulled out a gun and shot Freitas after arguing over whether the teens could take her Audi A4. Hammer then heard something downstairs, was surprised by Hildegard Volgyesi and shot her, Patterson wrote. Vanpelt then allegedly shot the woman additional times and fatally shot Janos Volgyesi in the back in the garage, Patterson’s recounting of the teens’ statements alleges.

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward has said the only apparent motive was to steal the Audi. Charging documents allege Hammer and Vanpelt were looking to get out of town after breaking into a Cody pawn store and stealing 10 firearms a few days prior to the murders. The two guns allegedly used in the murders — later recovered by law enforcement from a Clark irrigation ditch with Hammer and Vanpelt’s assistance — had been stolen from Cody Sports and Pawn, police say.

Wednesday’s preliminary hearing was highly anticipated. Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters had blocked off the entire afternoon for the proceeding, and all attendees had to pass through a metal detector. More than a dozen friends and family of the victims arrived roughly an hour early and put photos of the Volgyesis and Freitas on rows of seats reserved for the family and close friends. Roughly another dozen of family and friends came as the 1:30 p.m. hearing time drew near, including John Freitas, Ildiko’s husband. He was away on work at the time of the murders.

The courtroom was mostly full when a Circuit Court clerk entered at 1:30 p.m. and announced the hearing would not be held and that the case would be advancing to District Court.

Typically, preliminary hearings involve the lead investigating officer rehashing information contained in charging documents, while also disclosing new details of the allegations and case against the defendants. It’s common for defendants to waive their right to a preliminary hearing; the prosecution has a relatively low legal burden to meet for the charges to be bound over to District Court.

Hammer and Vanpelt continue to be held in the Park County Detention Center without bond.

Court records show law enforcement has seized a number of items for processing, including Hammer and Vanpelt’s clothing. They’ve also recovered data, including texts, from Vanpelt’s iPhone, court records say.

At an April 2 county staff meeting, Sheriff Steward told Park County commissioners to expect large costs for processing the evidence in the case.

“There’s so much evidence in this case, so it’s going to be a huge chunk just to process all the evidence in the (state crime) labs for us, but we’ll approach that when we get there,” Steward said.

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