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September 03, 2013 9:34 am

Cody men receive life sentences for triple murders

Written by CJ Baker

Two 19-year-old Cody men have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering three Clark residents in March.

The sentences for Tanner B. Vanpelt and Stephen F. Hammer, imposed by DIstrict Court Judge Steven Cranfill at a Tuesday morning hearing, were the result of a plea agreement offered by Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric.

Skoric could have chosen to pursue the death penalty, but agreed to life sentences with the support of law enforcement and the family of Ildiko Freitas, 40, and her parents, 70-year-old Janos Volgyesi and 69-year-old HIldegard Volgyesi. The three were gunned down by Vanpelt and Hammer on the morning of March 2.

The two young men, having reportedly stolen their guns from a Cody pawn store a few days earlier, had been looking to steal Freitas' Audi A4 and flee the area.

Freitas knew Hammer from when his family lived in the Clark area and had invited the pair into her home that morning, apparently having no idea the teens were armed.

Vanpelt began the violence by pulling out a gun and fatally shooting Freitas, then Hammer drew a gun and shot Hildegard Volgyesi in the basement and finally, Vanpelt encountered and shot Janos Volgyesi in the garage.

Hammer and Vanpelt each pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder at Tuesday's hearing.

Freitas' husband, John Freitas, and her younger brother, Thomas Volgyesi, each spoke at the sentencing hearing, lamenting the loss of their beloved family members for so little.

"They meant the world to me and your senseless act has ruined my life forever," said Thomas Volgyesi.

While saying the death penalty was deserved, Thomas Volgyesi said it would not bring him any closure and he supported a life sentence.

John Freitas similarly described agonizing pain and said he's been sentenced to a lifetime of nightmares.

"There's nothing left," he said.

Both teens cried in court as they apologized for their actions.

"There's no explanation for what I did, but the only thing that I know is that I have to live with it every day," Vanpelt said, wishing he could take it back.

Hammer similarly said his actions couldn't be justified."I can't even fathom what I've put you and everybody through," he said, looking towards the family. "I wish more than anything I could take back what I've done."

Attorneys for Hammer and Vanpelt each said they could not explain why the young men did what they did; each defense attorney described their clients' acts of violence as being out of character.

In accepting the plea agreements and imposing the life sentences, Judge Cranfill said he could not bring back the victims "of this senseless inhumanity," provide answers or erase what the community has experienced. However, Cranfill said he could accept the agreement supported by the family and sentence Vanpelt and Hammer to life in prison.

As per the agreement, Vanpelt received three consecutive sentences of life in prison without the possibilty of parole. For playing a lesser role in two of the shootings, Hammer received one sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole with the other two sentences being life in prison according to law.

While technically different sentences, they mean the same thing: both 19-year-olds have been ordered to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Judge Cranfill gave both Hammer and Vanpelt the same final words:

"May God have mercy on your soul."

A more complete story will follow in Thursday's edition of the Tribune and online.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link September 03, 2013 2:59 pm posted by Dewey

    Reality Check : the actual reason this sordid case was not allowed to proceed down the full Capital Murder path was simply a decision based on money. The cost of a Capital One murder proceeding is not cheap. There's never been one in Park County , just some non-death penalty excursions, whic also were not cheap.

    Neither this County nor the State of Wyoming ( who would share in the expense) can afford a fullblown death penalty trial. It's anybody's guess what the bill would be, but my guess is somewhere between $ 600,000 and $ 3 million before it was over, depending on if the defendants were tried separately or how far the automatic appeals travelled and for how long. Dale Wayne Eaton , the only man on Death Row in Wyoming, has cost this state a fortune and he's still drawing breath. The last man executed for murder X 4 in Wyoming cost this state millions...Mark Hopkinson . He gamed the system mightily. VanPelt and Hammer are just kids who chose to throw their life away , recklessly . Except we will be paying about $ 65,000 apiece per year for the rest of their lives to incarcerate them in Rawlins . They are young. If they live another 50 years, that pencils out to $ 6.5 million in today's dollars.

    This, people, is the hard reality of the " Justice System " in Wyoming. Nearly every case is plea bargained rather than tried , to save money and manpower. But is that really justice , as intended ? Or expediency ? Who wins vs. who loses vs. who pays for it all. I don't have the answers...

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