GILLETTE — Earl and Elizabeth Elliott were fast asleep when the police called.
It was about 1 a.m. July 15 when an officer told Earl that his truck had been stolen and found damaged at the Energy Capital Sports Complex.
“I said, ‘no, my truck’s out in the driveway,” he recalled.
But he was assured otherwise. By the time he stumbled out of bed and to his front window, he knew it for himself.
“My truck was gone,” he said.
Now, more than a month after his truck was allegedly stolen by a 14-year-old boy, along with two others, he still hasn’t gotten his white 2006 Chevy Silverado back.
Or a clear reason why.
“I don’t care about your prosecution, I don’t care about any of it,” Earl said. “I need my truck to feed my family.”
After his truck was stolen from his driveway more than six weeks ago, Earl is still without his truck and primary transportation. To boot, he said that the Campbell County Attorney’s Office has not provided him with a sound enough reason as to why he can’t have his truck back.
He said he was told that he would get his truck back once the cases for all three suspects — 14, 16 and 21 — are closed. While he doesn’t know when that will be, he just hopes it comes before winter does.
Earl works at Eagle Butte coal mine, which is about a 20-minute drive from his Gillette home. Without his truck for the past month or so, his motorcycle has gotten him to and from work. But with winter approaching, he said he just wants his reliable transportation back.
“Right now, I don’t know what to do,” Earl said. “We don’t have the money to invest in another vehicle.”
“There’s no possible way,” Elizabeth added.
Beside their home sits his “project truck,” a 1951 Chevy. Although it doesn’t run, is missing a transmission and “handles like an elephant on roller skates,” it may be his only hope for commuting to the mine once the weather gets too cold and roads get too slick for his motorcycle.
“I’m a long ways away from getting it put together,” Earl said. “In my mind, I think I’d be a lot closer to repairing whatever’s destroyed on my work truck.”
But since he hasn’t gotten his stolen and impounded truck back, he said he doesn’t even know how extensive the damage is or what repairs may be needed.
“We don’t even know what’s wrong with it,” Elizabeth said. “We don’t even know. We haven’t seen it.”
In a letter to the News Record, prosecutor Kyle Ferris said that while he cannot comment on an ongoing case, he did clarify the legal process and procedures applicable to the held evidence.
“We recognize that, in certain circumstances, crime victims and county resident’s lives may be impacted while this office discharges its duties,” he wrote.
That can come in the form of seized and held evidence. When property is seized during an investigation, it becomes evidence that can often be crucial for the state to meet its burden of proof, he said. As the legal standard stipulates, in a criminal case, the prosecution must show proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Basically, he said state law leaves room for prosecutors to decide whether holding the evidence is necessary in order to not interfere with the case. And although law does allow for photographs to stand as evidence in place of the property itself, he wrote that it becomes further complicated when there are multiple defendants in multiple courts, with multiple timelines and different legal counsel.
“Why can’t they just take pictures of the truck?” Earl said. “Why can’t that be evidence? Why do they need my truck held there?”
Perhaps not to Earl’s liking, but Ferris had an answer to that, too. Although photographs can stand-in for physical evidence, he said it can be damaging to the case and the defense’s ability to examine the evidence for its own purposes.
He said Wyoming is a state that “progressively permitted the defendant to inspect evidence in the custody of the state for facts that may develop their defense,” Ferris wrote. “Given this trend, if the state directs law enforcement to take photographs and return the property to a victim, this decision may seriously impede the case. Failure to have a piece of evidence at trial may lead to an outright dismissal of the state’s prosecution.”
Earl said he is not interested in seeking prosecution for the three young suspects or “racking on felonies and ruining people’s lives.”
He believes the suspects feel remorse, and hopes that continuing the case is for the right reasons.
In the weeks since becoming a victim when his truck was stolen, he said it feels like the legal process has victimized him all over again.
When Earl will get his truck back and what condition it will be in is still subject to the whims of the legal process. Which is another way of saying, it could take a while.
So while the prosecution irons out the cases against three allegedly binge-drinking, joyriding young men, Earl is left to wait and hope. While he waits for the legal process to unfold, he hopes he will have his truck back before winter comes.
“The law is on their side,” Earl said. “There’s nothing we can do.”