Former Casper Police Officer Awaiting Sentence for Child Endangering Charge

More than ninety days after a guilty plea, a former Casper police officer hasn’t been sentenced.

Laura Starnes-Wells pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and the misdemeanor charge of child endangering on Tuesday, November 28th 2017.

Court reports show Wells turned herself in two weeks after warrants were issued in February 2017 following reports of her abusing her two children from 2008 until 2016.

Courts heard testimony of psychological abuse by isolation, deprivation, shame-based punishment in school and punishment for stuttering during her preliminary hearing last year.

The charge of felony child abuse carries a sentence of ten years in prison.

In November, Wells accepted a plea deal with state prosecutors and pleaded guilty to the two charges.

Wells took what is called a 301 option, which means she faces a suspended sentence of one to five years of probation and if she satisfies all the conditions, she won't end up a convicted felon.

She also pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of child endangerment.

As of March 6th, 2018, which is 98 days since her change of plea, Starnes-Wells has not been called back for her sentencing hearing, where she is to be sentenced to probation for the misdemeanor.

Staff from the Christina L. Williams Law Office in Gillette, tells News 13 most felony cases are wrapped up within 60-90 days after a change of plea hearing and for misdemeanor charges, they are typically handled the day of, or just a few days later.

So, we at News 13 ask, ‘Why is this case taking so long?’

The Law Office also said that 98 days, “definitely seems to be on the longer side”.

News 13 also visited and an article: ‘Wyoming and the Criminal Law Process’ says:
“Those convicted of misdemeanors generally receive their sentencing immediately after a guilty verdict or finding.”

Frank R. Chapman, from the Chapman Valdez & Lansing Attorneys told News 13 a typical sentencing hearing typically takes 6-12 weeks (3 months) from a change of plea hearing to a sentencing hearing.

Chapman did however express that some cases do in fact take longer than three months and it is not unusual.

He did say the 98 days is on the longer end of typical cases.

Attorney Jeremy Hugus from the Platte River Law Firm told News 13 it generally takes several months yet a misdemeanor conviction, is often times handled on the same day as a plea is entered.

Today, we reached out again to Natrona County District Attorney’s Office to address where the case is currently, the office stated, “They had nothing to say about the case”.

In November, following the hearing, News 13 sat down with Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen who said a budgetary issue was a factor in the plea deal that was reached.

Hiring an expert witness to discuss the mental abuse of the victims it would have, according to Blonigen, cost 10-12 thousand dollars.

"This case would have been better with an independent mental health expert beyond those we already had, we had some evidence of that but additional experts, that would have been quite expensive."

“It is a factor though, you don't have as good of a case as you would like to have and that goes into often times, whether you make a plea agreement or not," he said.

Blonigen agreed the kids had been abused and said the case does not sit well with him.

He also said Wells’ status as a former Casper officer was not a factor in the decision, or the deal.

News 13 will continue to follow this case.