Former prosecutor admits negligence
CASPER — A former Teton County prosecutor testified Monday in front of a Wyoming State Bar tribunal that he had been “sloppy and negligent” by not producing evidence ordered by a judge in a case that sentenced a man to life in prison.
Becket Hinckley, who resigned from his post as a Jackson prosecutor in 2019, is accused of violating eight rules of prosecutorial misconduct in Josh Black’s 2015 assault trial and subsequent remand.
A three-person tribunal, composed of a judge, an attorney and one layperson, will decide this week whether Hinckley is guilty of those charges. If they find evidence of misconduct, they’ll be tasked with deciding what consequences he will face.
The Wyoming Supreme Court, in a 2017 decision reversing Black’s case, also said there was “no question” that there was prosecutorial misconduct during Black’s trial.
Hinckley is accused of not carrying out repeated orders from Teton County Judge Timothy Day to request Facebook and phone records from Verizon. The formal charge brought by the Wyoming State Bar also alleges that, according to court transcripts, Hinckley lied to the court about the status of the warrants for those records.
On Monday, Hinckley maintained that while he hadn’t ever personally requested the records, he had handed over all the evidence he had obtained to the defense. “If the state has exculpatory evidence, we turn it over,” he said. “Period.”
The bar has also charged him with making extrajudicial comments for allegedly giving the Jackson Hole News&Guide a letter from Black while he was incarcerated at the Wyoming State Penitentiary. Bar counsel Mark Gifford said Monday that the press coverage including excerpts from the letter painted Black in a bad light.
Hinckley said Monday he does not know how the paper got access to direct quotes from the letter, since he would not have shared something like that from his personal file with the press. He conceded that he has on some occasions let people look at documents like the letter in his office and take notes.
On Monday morning, Hinckley testified that the Verizon and Facebook records would not have made a difference in the trial, as data from both Black’s and the victim’s phones had been extracted and downloaded via a Colorado crime lab.
Hinckley was also appointed as the prosecutor when Black’s case was reversed in 2017. Three months into that process, there was still no movement on requesting the records. Black’s lawyer in the second proceeding, Pinedale-based Betsy Greenwood, filed a motion to compel that evidence in early May 2018.
When the records were eventually obtained, after Teton County Prosecutor Steve Weichman took Hinckley off the case during the remand in June 2018, all that was left from Verizon was billing information. The company said in their response that records are only kept for one year.
Emails from January 2015, around nine months before trial, obtained by the bar’s investigation, show Black’s first attorney asking Hinckley for a list of evidence that still needed to be discovered. It included phone and Facebook data, medical records, audio and video of all interviews done with the victim, blood and tissue swabs, and a toxicology report.
At the time, Hinckley testified, he knew the toxicology report and blood samples had been thrown away — a Teton County investigator had told him, with great agitation, that she had gone to pick up the samples eight days after they were taken, but the hospital only keeps samples for one week.
Day, according to court filings, formally ordered Hinckley to produce those records in August 2015. Gifford said Monday that if the prosecutor had executed the order then, the records surrounding the October 2014 incident would have been available.
From Facebook, Gifford noted Monday, the records returned included a message from the victim to a friend from roughly a month after the incident, in which she said she did not remember how it happened.
Hinckley’s counsel, Cheyenne lawyer Steve Kline, said in his cross-examination that because the victim testified during the trial that her memory of the event was hazy and was open about not remembering certain things, the newly discovered evidence would not have changed the case’s outcome.
“You definitely want that as defense counsel,” Hinckley said. “But that’s one piece of evidence versus the 450 things we presented at trial.”
In his opening statements Monday morning, Kline presented a slideshow that included photos of the victim’s bruised and swollen face as well as excerpted court transcripts and other various documents.
Jeffrey Donnell, a retired Albany County judge presiding over the hearing, interrupted Kline’s statements to remind him that the purpose of the hearing was not to relitigate Black’s case.