At an initial probation revocation hearing on Monday in Park County’s District Court, Kenneth Vanderford cried and denied allegations that he violated the terms of his probation by contacting his daughters and not cooperating with probation and parole agents. An evidentiary hearing will likely be held by early July.
Vanderford, 45, had accepted a plea agreement from the Park County Attorney’s Office late last month by pleading guilty to three counts of physically abusing his children.
Vanderford reportedly punished his teenage daughter by handcuffing and leashing her to a bed-frame and making her use a bucket to relieve herself in the summer of 2010; he also inspected his pre-adolescent daughters genitals to see if they were virgins, court records say.
In exchange for pleading guilty to the felony counts of abuse, a five- to seven-year prison term was suspended in favor of five years of supervised probation.
Some in the community have criticized the original deal as too lenient. That includes two Clark residents who wrote letters to the editor of the Tribune and the Cody Enterprise’s managing editor, who called the deal a failure to the legal system in a Monday column and said “everyone should be outraged.”
Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt has said he offered the deal because he wasn’t certain he could get a conviction on the physical abuse charges at trial and wanted to spare the girls the ordeal of testifying against their father while ensuring through the terms of probation that they would have no contact with him for at least five years.
District Court Judge Steven Cranfill accepted the deal on May 25 with “some reluctance,” but did so “with the understanding that it will avoid the minors’ participation in further proceedings and all the emotions that go with that,” he said at the time.
Law enforcement is alleging it may have been as little as a week from sentencing that Vanderford violated his probation.
Wyoming Probation and Parole Agent Sharon Moore wrote in an affidavit that evidence discovered Thursday indicates Vanderford spent a week at a Columbus, Mont., cabin with his wife, Mendy Vanderford, and his two younger daughters.
Agents found a slip of paper at Vanderford’s Cody motel room listing a phone number for a Columbus, Mont., motel, Moore wrote. When she spoke with an employee at the Montana business, the staffer relayed that Vanderford had stayed there for about a week with his wife and two daughters, leaving June 6, Moore recounted.
Vanderford didn’t have permission to be out-of-state in Montana, Moore wrote. He was arrested Thursday afternoon.
District Court Judge Steven Cranfill later agreed with Blatt’s recommendation and set Vanderford’s bail at $100,000 cash only.
Vanderford cried through most of the hearing, at one point asking to be partially unshackled so he could wipe his face. He had argued for a lower bail he could post. He noted he’s always made his court appearances and had an “impeccable” record of being on time despite sometimes having to travel long distances from out of state.
“This has been extraordinarily, extraordinarily difficult. For a year and two months now, approximately, I’ve been viewed as a little bit less than human,” Vanderford said amid tears of the abuse charges against him.
“If I could just be allowed to have a bond that I could possibly make, I would give you my word that I will not do anything I’m not supposed to do,” Vanderford told Cranfill.
“The violations are very serious,” countered Blatt, adding that the no-contact order was one of the most important conditions of Vanderford’s probation.
“I think that, in and of itself, indicates that Mr. Vanderford is not one to be trusted,” he said.
Vanderford remains on probation for a 2010 conviction of felony computer crime. That was in connection with allegations that he stole equipment, a customer list, sales data and other resources from his then-employer, Color World Printers in Cody, to start up a competing business, Big West Print Solutions.
In a successful application for a court-appointed attorney submitted on Monday, Vanderford listed himself as a Corinth, Miss., resident self-employed at Big West Print Solutions.
If Vanderford cannot post the $100,000, an evidentiary hearing to determine whether he violated his probation must be held within 14 days. At that hearing, Blatt will have to prove a violation by “a preponderance of the evidence” — a significantly lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt” — that only requires a showing it’s more likely than not the terms were violated. If he did violate his probation, Vanderford will be re-sentenced.
Blatt said after Monday’s hearing that he plans to seek the imposition of the full five- to seven-year prison sentence.