Seventeen-year-old Jonathan F. Bentley — who is alleged to have been among four armed young men who tried to rob a teen on West Second Street — was spotted by officers in downtown Powell on July 3 and arrested. At his initial appearance July 5, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters set Bentley’s bail at $50,000 cash only and appointed a public defender to represent him. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
The account provided by Powell police in court documents alleges that, shortly after midnight on April 6, Sage Miears, William Hamilton and Jesse Villarreal, all carrying guns, went to rob a teen at his Second Street residence. Bentley, who had helped come up with the plan, waited in a car, charging documents allege. However, the targeted teen surprised and confronted the three in the alley behind his apartment.
Police say Miears then pointed a pistol at the teen’s head and threatened him. The teen responded by tackling Miears, whom he recognized. At some point, the .22 caliber pistol Miears was carrying was fired, charging documents say, and the three alleged conspirators fled. Miears later told police the gun went off as he was trying to put it away. No one was shot or seriously injured in the altercation.
Miears, 19, of Powell, has been charged with aggravated assault and has been jailed since his April 7 arrest. He has pleaded not guilty.
Bentley, Hamilton and Villarreal are charged with conspiring to commit armed robbery, a felony. Hamilton, 19, of Powell, is free on bond while he awaits a preliminary hearing; Villarreal, 17, of Lovell, has yet to be found.
The Park County Sheriff’s Office and Powell Police Department’s investigations into that altercation led them to uncover what they say were a set of loosely connected crimes. They include two break-ins at Powell businesses on the night of March 16 and thefts of guns and other items from two homes in rural Powell.
“I think in hindsight, that (the gunshot) probably was the straw that broke the camel’s back, for sure,” said Park County Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Patterson in an April interview.
Though no one has been charged in connection with the crime, the pistol Miears allegedly used in the attempted robbery and was found at the scene had been stolen from a home on Lane 7, Patterson said; that theft was reported April 4.
Miears, John T. McCarthy Jr., 21, of Powell and Luke Cannon, 18, of Powell have been charged with felonies in connection with two different burglaries at a Lane 11 residence. Police say those break-ins occurred sometime in March. Ten firearms, valuable coins, silverware and a safe were among the items stolen from that home while the owners were away.
On June 24, McCarthy pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit burglary in return for two more serious felonies being dismissed by prosecutors. The deal calls for him to receive a sentence of five years of supervised probation, said Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt.
As part of the agreement, McCarthy agreed to testify truthfully against the others alleged to have been involved in the Lane 11 break-ins if those cases go to trial, Blatt said.
Cannon sought to have the charges against him dismissed at a preliminary hearing last month.
Cannon’s attorney, Bill Simpson of Cody, noted there was no physical evidence connecting his client to the crime, and he argued police were relying on unreliable sources.
However, Judge Waters noted that issues of witness credibility are up to a jury to weigh. He also noted that the accounts of Miears, McCarthy and a female friend of McCarthy’s — as recounted by Patterson in court — were similar and “consistent with what was discovered at the (Lane 11) house.”
Miears and McCarthy told police that Cannon, who had previously done work for the Lane 11 residents, came up with the idea to break into that particular house.
Waters said the accounts given to police were “fairly clear that Mr. Cannon had an idea, and that idea was the house was ripe for picking and could be easily burglarized.”
Prosecutors’ burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is a much more lenient standard than what is required to get a conviction at a trial.
However, Waters was concerned the break-ins could have occurred between late February and March 30, while the charges allege the burglaries occurred “on or between” March 14 to March 30.
“If it turns out these events took place on the 12th or 13th, I can see this case going down in flames for the state,” the judge warned.
A separate felony charge of delivering a controlled substance, alleging Cannon in March shared a bottle of morphine with a teen who an officer said “overdosed and nearly died,” was also bound over to District Court by Waters.
An arraignment date for Cannon, when he will formally enter pleas to the charges against him, had not been set as of last week.
Miears’ next hearing in the robbery and Lane 11 burglary cases — plus a separate burglary charge from last year — is slated for Aug. 3, where he can change his pleas of not guilty or have a pre-trial hearing.
Miears and McCarthy told police that a fourth teen was involved in the Lane 11 burglaries, court documents say, but he has not been charged; that man is currently jailed in Big Horn County as he awaits a trial on felony drug delivery charges.
Bentley has not been charged in connection with the Lane 11 burglary, but police say Bentley sold several stolen guns, including two pistols to a co-worker. That man turned the weapons over to police when he heard Bentley was being investigated for stolen firearms.
Adding more complexity to the case, the teen police say was the victim in the alleged April 6 robbery attempt was charged with drug-related crimes in Hot Springs County in early June. Miears told police the group decided to try robbing him in hopes of stealing his stash of drugs and making money, court documents say. Cannon told police the morphine he allegedly shared in March originally came from that teen, DCI Special Agent Michael Hall testified at a preliminary hearing.
In a late April interview, Patterson said the way the multiple property crimes were related to a violent incident reminded him of gang activity he saw in Washington state, though he said the teens were not a gang.
“Our hope is that people in the community realize that these kind of activities and coordinated crime efforts can occur — even in small communities in Wyoming — (and) they have a pretty far-reaching impact,” Patterson said.