Natrona County Man Gets Probation in Sexual Assault Case
A man who admitted last year to sexually assaulting his then-wife received a suspended prison sentence and was placed on a term of probation Thursday afternoon in Natrona County District Court.
James Erwin Furley had pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree sexual assault, as part of an agreement with prosecutors. District Judge Thomas Sullins sentenced Furley to a term of five years supervised probation with an underlying suspended prison sentence of six to 10 years.
Sullins also ordered Furley to immediately apply for acceptance into the Casper Re-Entry Center's nine-month felony program, and to pay $2,675 in restitution to the Wyoming Division of Victim Services.
The affidavit submitted in support of the charges alleged that Furley raped his then-wife twice on June 7. The victim made audio recordings of the incidents in question and presented those recordings to the investigator.
In his interview with the investigator, as detailed in the affidavit, Furley said he had "taken things too far."
The original plea agreement in the case specified that Furley's guilty plea was a 'cold plea,' which means the prosecution was free to argue at sentencing that Furley serve up to 15 years behind bars, which is the maximum penalty for third-degree sexual assault in Wyoming.
With that plea deal in place, Furley entered his guilty plea in July 2017.
However, at the beginning of Thursday's hearing, both Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen and defense attorney Rich Jamieson recommended that Sullins accept a revised plea agreement in the case.
That revised deal specified that both the defense and prosecution would recommend Furley receive a sentence of probation, instead of allowing the prosecution to argue for significant prison time, as was outlined in the original agreement.
Sullins was critical of the revised plea agreement as well as the fact that the deal was changed following Furley's guilty plea, and began Thursday's hearing by posing legal questions to both Itzen and Jamieson. Sullins asked them to justify their new plea agreement, which was submitted to the court some seven months after the original deal was outlined in the change-of-plea hearing.
"Clearly, this is a very unique situation," Jamieson told Sullins. "The last thing I want to do is turn this into a dog and pony show."
"We don't come to you half-heartedly or lightly with this," Jamieson continued. He emphasized that under the plea deal, the potential existed for a "miscarriage of justice," and the revised deal -- which allowed for Furley to receive a sentence of probation and avoid prison time -- would serve justice well.
"It gave us certainty with regard to appeals, as well as to what a jury would do with this," Itzen told K2 Radio News following Thursday's hearing.
During the sentencing hearing, Jamieson told Sullins that he was prepared to file a motion to withdraw Furley's guilty plea and have the matter reset for trial if Sullins decided to not be bound by the revised plea agreement. Itzen said that factor played into the state's choice to join in the revised plea deal.
"If he is allowed to withdraw his plea, what's the likelihood of success in this case?" Itzen said following the hearing.
Sullins told Jamieson that if the prosecution tried to get out of a plea agreement which was entered into on the record in open court, he would "come down really hard" on the state. Sullins asked why his reaction in this case should be any different.
Jamieson responded by agreeing that Sullins would be correct in such a reaction, should one party unilaterally try to get out of an agreed-upon plea deal. However, Jamieson said, the revised plea agreement in this case was jointly agreed upon by both parties.
The sentencing hearing was held Thursday following multiple postponements in the latter part of 2017.
Jamieson took over Furley's legal representation in early October, following public defender Zak Szekely's withdrawal from the case.
In his Sept. 26 motion to withdraw, Szekely cited a possible conflict of interests based on the Wyoming Rules of Criminal Procedure, as well as statements Furley made during the presentence investigation in the case.
Szekely referenced specific paragraphs in the presentence investigation report in his motion to withdraw, but did not include the statements themselves, as they are not public record.
Among other things, Szekely wrote in his motion, Furley's statements called into doubt "the plea agreement, the effectiveness of the representation by counsel as well as the interests of counsel conflicting with the interests of Mr. Furley."
Before Sullins on Thursday, Jamieson asserted that previous counsel for Furley had been ineffective, and that would have been the basis for his prepared -- but not submitted -- motion to withdraw Furley's guilty plea.
Sullins emphasized that if previous defense counsel was ineffective, Furley should have an opportunity to be heard, should he want to withdraw his guilty plea.
Jamieson responded that Sullins should instead accept the revised plea agreement, which was satisfactory to Furley and would allow the matter to proceed without delving into the details of Furley's previous legal representation.
Sullins said he would "very reluctantly" accept the revised plea deal, because it had been strongly recommended by both the defense and prosecution.
Per the sentence handed down Thursday, Furley is to have no contact with the victim, with an exception for contact via attorneys or the court in ongoing legal matters.