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Defendants sign plea deals in Sinks Canyon vandalism case

Jan 18, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A special prosecutor also has been appointed for three of the four defendants.

Several cases related to vandalized cabins in Sinks Canyon have seen progress, a month after several of them hit delays. Three of the four adult defendants so far are resolving their cases with plea agreements, and three had a special out-of-county prosecutor appointed Jan. 6.

Court documents indicated minors might have been involved in the cases, but juvenile court cases are not public record. The four adult defendants are Michael William Vinich, Shaun Weston Zgurich, James Robert Webb and Maxine Lawson.

Snags in the cases arose at a hearing Dec. 5. District Court Judge Marvin L. Tyler canceled trials for Vinich and Webb, and he also postponed a hearing on a plea agreement for Zgurich to give the incoming county attorney time to prepare for the trials and court officials time to notify victims about the one defendant's deal with prosecutors.

Webb signed a plea agreement Friday. Vinich's attorney said at a hearing Tuesday that he worked out a resolution with prosecutors, but details were not yet available.

Deferred prosecution

The two deals involved a deferred prosecution. Under that arrangement, a defendant facing his or her first felony offense can plead guilty but not be convicted. Then the defendants are ordered to serve a term of probation, and if they do so successfully, they would not be convicted and have no further punishment. If they violate their probation, they would be convicted and sentenced normally.

Under Zgurich's agreement, he would plead guilty to one charge and have a deferred prosecution involving five years of probation, and his three other charges would be dismissed. Zgurich has a hearing on the deal Feb. 4.

Webb's would see him plead guilty to two charges, have him sentenced to time served for one (about five months in jail) and give him a deferred prosecution involving two years probation for the second. Two other charges would be dismissed. A hearing for Webb has not been set.

Special prosecutor

At the Dec. 5 hearing, Vinich's lawyer, Valerie Schoneberger, also said the Fremont County Attorney's Office was not handling her client's case properly, an allegation she followed through by filing a motion to disqualify the local prosecutors Dec. 12.

One of the victims serves as a federal magistrate and a municipal judge for Riverton and Lander and encounters the Fremont County Attorney's Office frequently in professional circumstances, Schoneberger said, referring to Teresa M. McKee.

"Defendant asserts he has not received customary and fair treatment in plea negotiations, and that one of the victims in this case may have had unusual access to the Fremont County Attorney's Office," Schoneberger wrote.

Her client has not been convicted of a felony before and, like the other defendants, is charged with property crimes, not with physically hurting other people.

"Such circumstances would ordinarily qualify the defendant for deferred prosecution ... However, such treatment is apparently not being considered by the Fremont County Attorney's Office," Schoneberger wrote.

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun, who took office Jan. 5, said he could not comment on the substance of a motion. McKee also declined to comment on the case.

"(T)his Court should appoint an out-of-county special prosecutor to handle this matter," Schoneberger wrote.

Action already has been taken on the issue.

On Jan. 6, Carbon County Attorney Calvin Rerucha was appointed the special prosecutor to handle three of the four cases, including Vinich's.

' A special prosecutor was not appointed for Zgurich, but he made a deal with the Fremont County Attorney's Office before the special prosecutor was assigned.

A Fremont County Commission resolution appointed Rerucha in the three vandalism cases "in which the Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney's Office has either a conflict of interest or which would have the appearance of impropriety if pursued by that office," the document stated.

LeBrun said he could not say why a special prosecutor was not brought in earlier than five months into the cases.

"I can't make assessments on what the reasoning behind what the previous administration's reasoning was," LeBrun said, referring to the previous Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett.

Officials said the four defendants and two Lander sisters born in 1996 and 1998 broke into one Sinks Canyon cabin on May 1 and another on May 5.

The Fremont County Sheriff's office at the time of the arrests said it found broken windows, holes in the walls, broken dishes and discharged fire extinguishers among other damage.

All four defendants were charged with criminal entry, burglary and two counts of conspiracy to commit property destruction.

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