SUBLETTE COUNTY – Of the two men charged with stealing four rifles from a Pinedale landlady’s garage and hiding them in her house, one is going to trial and the other just signed a plea agreement.
Matthew T. Oliver of Tomball, Texas, and Brandon L. Johnson, of Douglas, Wyo., both pleaded not guilty to four rifle theft charges in 9th District Court and trial dates were set.
Oliver also faces misdemeanor theft for allegedly taking other personal belongings.
Although the rifles’ values might be less than $1,000 each, theft of a firearm is a felony with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, $10,000 or both.
Oliver is represented by attorney Rives White; deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich is the prosecutor. Oliver’s three-day jury trial begins on May 10 before 9th District Judge Marv Tyler.
On April 2, Melinkovich requested that an expert witness for the prosecution from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation be allowed to testify by video.
The Sixth Amendment “ensures a defendant’s right to confront and cross-examine witnesses” in person but “testimony can be received in an alternate manner,” according to his motion. Potentially difficult travel conditions and COVID-19 exposures – listing specific costs and time saved – Melinkovich requested the videoconference testimony. He included costs for 716 miles of round-trip travel, three nights’ lodging and four days of per diem meals.
“Conserving government resources, reducing personal risk to individuals and reducing unnecessary travel during a nationwide pandemic are all important public policies,” he wrote.
On April 19, Judge Tyler approved the motion after Oliver “waived his right to confrontation but not to cross-examination.”
Pretrial memos show Melinkovich plans to call Johnson as a witness at Oliver’s trial.
Johnson’s jury trial was set for Sept. 20 after his attorney Cole Sherard requested a later date due to a scheduling conflict, records show.
On April 14, Judge Tyler vacated Johnson’s pretrial conference and the trial, with Sherard, Johnson and Melinkovich reaching a plea agreement.
The plea agreement was filed the same day. It says that Johnson would plead guilty to one count, with both sides recommending three years of supervised probation. Also, if he is ever called to testify in court, he must do so “truthfully and completely,” it says. The other three charges would be dismissed.
Johnson is to have no access to firearms while on probation “accept (sic) to hunt as long as firearms are not in the home,” which is initialed “CS.”
After one year, Johnson could petition to change his probation from supervised to unsupervised.
A change-of-plea hearing is not yet set.
On Dec. 14, 2020, a woman renting the main floor of her Pinedale house to coworkers noticed items out of place and three guns missing from her garage, where her tenants were not allowed access, according to an affidavit by Deputy Sinclair Streeter.
Her son confirmed he had several guns stored there, it says.
The woman who cleaned the rooms noticed items from the garage in Oliver’s room and told the landlady, who called their supervisor, the affidavit says.
The supervisor set out the items – two Halliburton fleece sweatshirts, a Halliburton lunch cooler and a blow-dart gun – and confronted Oliver, who denied taking anything but one sweatshirt, it says.
On Dec. 15, two detectives and Deputy Streeter seized those items and also found a 30.06 bolt-action rifle in a basement heater duct. A .22 LR Remington 1905-1912 rifle, a 20-gauge pump action shotgun and a .22 LR single shot rifle were found between the upstairs floor and a heater duct, it says.
Oliver admitted entering the garage and handling four guns but denied taking them.
Later, Deputy Streeter spoke to Johnson, “who had ended his employment and returned home.” Johnson said he saw the guns in Oliver’s room and helped him hide them, according to court records.