District court imposes numerous sentences

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Recent hearings in 9th District Court include a July 22 arraignment and sentencings, as well as a full day on the previous Thursday, July 15.

  • Mariah Culwell of Pinedale reached a plea agreement and changed her previous not guilty pleas of March 18 to no contest on July 15, to felony delivery of marijuana and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

While out on bond, Culwell was twice reported to have positive THC results after being called in for chemical testing, court records show. Culwell had appeared before Judge Tyler after Sublette County Deputy Attorney Stan Cannon petitioned for her bond to be revoked due to the first test’s results.

Culwell denied it, saying with a doctor’s recommendation she had used Delta 8, a legal hemp extract that is supposed to have less than 3 percent THC but is not regulated in Wyoming at this time.

The second time Cannon filed a petition to revoke her bond, Culwell again denied using THC. Judge Tyler expressed frustration with her, saying this time she had been arrested for allegedly smoking Delta 8.

Both Cannon and public defender Rachel Weksler had negotiated a plea agreement to keep Culwell out of prison in exchange for deferred prosecution and supervised probation. At the second revocation hearing, Cannon withdrew his petition and the judge admonished Culwell to use or come in contact with anything that might contain THC.

On July 15, Cannon noted that if Culwell was arrested on one more possession charge, it would become a felony.

“I want to give this defendant an opportunity to do well,” Cannon said. He asked the judge to include specific conditions that her only allowed medications are doctor-prescribed and not to use any CBD or Delta 8 while on probation.

Weksler agreed. She added Culwell has experienced serious trauma since she was young, had a serious car accident and lost a child

“She’s facing these issues head on, she is prioritizing her job, her two young children and caring for her grandfather,” Weksler said. Culwell also signed up for substance abuse counseling.

The judge told Culwell he “had lingering doubts” she could be successful while on probation. Deferred prosecution is literally a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

“Make no mistake – continued use of those items may be violation of your probation. (To succeed) you have to comply with all of this.”

Culwell said after her son’s death, she turned to alcohol and drugs but now wants to be a sober, better person, calling her arrest “a blessing in disguise.”

Judge Tyler accepted her pleas and the agreement: “I will be very blunt – I have lingering concerns.”

If she violates probation, he said, he could sentence her to the maximum of 10 years in prison and $10,000 fine.

  • Timothy T. O’Neal of Spokane also changed his not guilty pleas to guilty on two felony charges, endangering a child where meth is stored or used and possession of marijuana, based on a plea agreement that would put him on probation in Washington.

“I do not want to sweep anything under the rug,” O’Neal told the judge, admitting he has significant criminal history. He testified under oath that his child was in his vehicle with less than 1 gram of meth and just over 6 ounces of marijuana.

Judge Tyler said he has not accepted a plea agreement and asked O’Neal to sign a waiver of speedy sentencing. If he rejects it, the maximum penalties could be two five-year prison terms and $10,000 fines.

“What happens between now and sentencing, you have to be successful getting things done, getting your probation transferred to Washington,” he said. “I’m not going to let it linger; I will set a final disposition soon.” 

  • Galen Bellis of Pinedale appeared July 15 via videoconference from the jail, after his July 11 arrest and July 13 charge of allowing minors at a house party with alcohol present – both allegedly violating his supervised probation.

In 2018, Bellis was placed on five years of supervised probation with prosecution deferred for a controlled substance felony.

Deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich filed a petition for Bellis’s probation revocation due to his arrest. Deputy Travis Lanning reported Bellis had admitted drinking that day and on April 14, according to court records.

Judge Tyler told Bellis he had several choices. If he admitted the alleged violations, the judge could revoke his probation, which could lose Bellis his “deferred prosecution” status for the past felony drug delivery charge and impose a sentence of up to 10 years and $10,000 fine. The judge could also put Bellis back under probation and suspend the sentence.

“If you deny, the state has to show more likely than not you violated your probation,” Judge Tyler said. That would “trigger a hearing” for the state to prove its case. The last option, he added, was to claim he can’t be tried by reason of mental illness and be evaluated at the Wyoming State Hospital.

Bellis denied both probation violations and also permitting a party where minors were present.

Attorney Gaston Gosar asked if Bellis’s $10,000 cash bond in District Court could be reduced to $5,000. Bellis’s bond for the house party charge is set at $1,000 cash only. 

  • Marcella Tracy-Norris Hamilton pleaded no contest to felony and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance. For the felony, she received a one to two-year prison sentence, suspended for three years of supervised probation. District Judge Marv Tyler approved the extended probation as appropriate. For the misdemeanor, she was sentenced to 12 months in jail, suspended for one year of unsupervised probation to run concurrently. Hamilton was extradited to Idaho for other charges. 
  • Phillip A. Lewis, Jr., pleaded not guilty on July 22 to the felony count of delivery of a controlled substance, marijuana. He requested a jury trial.

Lewis is charged with selling pot to an unnamed “confidential source” on or around Nov. 23, 2020. He was released from custody on a $5,000 cash bond, according to court records.

Public defender Rachel Weksler asked Judge Tyler if his release conditions could be amended so he can work throughout Wyoming and if necessary, stay overnight for work. Judge Tyler amended the conditions to allow that, telling Lewis he needs to keep in touch with his attorney and her, with the court.

  • John Handy of Pinedale decided to not go through with his July 19 trial. On July 15 he pleaded no contest on the felony charge of delivery of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

Handy told Judge Tyler he didn’t “mean to be disrespectful at all” but he holds to a higher power. The judge said he was not judging Handy as an individual, but upholding the Wyoming and US constitutions and laws for an appropriate sentence.

The plea agreement included a split sentence that Judge Tyler called “unique although fair.” He sentenced Handy to five to seven years in prison with credit for 170 days, then suspended the sentence for three years of probation. The misdemeanor carried one year of probation to run at the same time. Handy must get substance abuse treatment and pay prosecution costs of $427.