A Riverton mother expressed her discontent with the Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney, following the death of her child’s father. One complaint is about plea agreements.
Kami Spencer started a petition for Attorney Michael Bennett’s resignation and said others feel the same way. She said people believe there is too much plea bargaining and a lack of compassion for the victim’s family, but Bennett said the use of plea agreements is a normal part of the legal system nationwide.
“Basically there are three ways that a criminal prosecution would end and that would either be trial, dismissal by the state, or a plea agreement,” said Bennett.
Bennett said all plea agreements have to be agreed to by the court.
“We look at every case on an individual basis and we try to determine what justice is in the case and if we can reach that goal through a plea agreement we will and if we can’t we'll go to trial,” said Bennett.
However, some residents in Fremont County do not feel the same.
“Most people just don’t see why he’s plea bargaining such extreme cases and why so many people are getting off with probation and unsupervised probation with little to nothing,” said Spencer.
Gabriel Drennen was serving a sentence for the murder of Leroy Hoster, the father of Spencer’s child. The Wyoming Supreme Court overturned the verdict in October. Bennett said the state could not meet its burden in prosecuting Drennen. He said Drennen acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Hoster. Spencer said she felt Drennen could have used other options according to evidence at trial.
“Mr. Drennen was a black belt in taekwondo,” said Spencer. “There was also a smaller caliber pistol in his vehicle. He also had mace or bear spray in the truck.”
Spencer also appeared before the county commissioners. She said some who signed the petition do not understand why there is so much plea bargaining and feel criminals are walking free.
Bennett said plea bargaining saves time and money, and is an opportunity to consider all the facts and circumstances of a case and reach a just result.
“We don't have enough judges, lawyers, law enforcement to take every case to trial,” said Bennett. “Taking every case to trial would grind the whole system to abrupt halt so plea agreements are used.”
A Riverton police captain said plea bargains do not really affect their department. He said officers are paid the same for duty or testifying in court, but in his experience sometimes they are notified of procedures.
“Once in a while they'll call and say hey this is what we're thinking about doing what do you think of that, but that's pretty rare because that's just not our piece of the puzzle,” said Captain Eric Murphy.
He also said they do not keep track of repeat offenders, but have the ability.
“Sometime there is a misunderstanding about plea agreements and we're just shirking our responsibilities and that's just not true at all,” said Bennett. “Every case has its good points and its bad points.”
Spencer said she does not understand, for example, how an original charge like first degree murder could by dropped to a lesser charge like manslaughter in a plea bargain.
“I feel he doesn’t include the victims in what he does and he is not representing the victims in all the cases,” said Spencer.
Bennett said plea bargains are used all over the United States.