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Man guilty of murder in Lander death

Aug 2, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A jury has found John Thomas Hereford guilty of second-degree murder, kidnapping and one count of first-degree sexual assault.

"This is what we anticipated from the beginning," said Lander police chief Jim Carey, whose agency led the investigation. "We had overwhelming evidence."

Hereford, 25, of Lander, was charged in the Sept. 11 shooting death of Travis Armajo, 32, of Lander, at a house Hereford was renting in the 800 block of North Second Street in Lander. Hereford also confined Armajo's fiancee and sexually assaulted her at her home two blocks away.

Wyoming 9th Judicial District Judge Norman E. Young on Friday ordered a presentencing investigation but has not set the date for Hereford's sentencing.

Hereford faces a maximum penalty of two life-in-prison sentences plus 50 years. The minimum sentence for his crimes is 45 years.

Jury

The panel of six women and six men deliberated late into Thursday evening and met again Friday morning before settling on the verdict.

The jury was charged with deciding whether prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Hereford committed the crimes as charged. But jury members also had to determine whether one or two sexual assaults occurred, and they were given the chance to find Hereford guilty of manslaughter instead of second-degree murder.

Assault

The jury found Hereford not guilty of the second charge of first-degree sexual assault.

In closing arguments, Hereford's lawyer Bob Horn and Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Bennett had sparred over the question of whether one or two rapes had occurred.

In charges prosecutors alleged Hereford early in the morning of Sep. 11 sexually assaulted his victim while threatening her with a gun.

Wyoming law states first-degree sexual assault involves inflicting "sexual intrusion on a victim" while threatening the victim with death.

"The crimes do not fit the facts," Horn said.

He argued the assault was one continuous attack lasting 60-90 minutes and not two separate violations. On the stand, the victim agreed with him.

The lawyer from Jackson also told jurors a story. He told them the owner of the Twin Towers tried to file an insurance claim for each tower after the 9/11 attacks.

His insurance company disagreed and won the ensuing court battle, only paying out as if the events were one attack.

Horn suggested bringing similar reasoning into the Hereford case.

"Don't get hung up on some rich guy in New York who is trying to double dip on a civil suit and take that to mean you get a two-for-one-special on a rape charge in Fremont County," Bennett responded in his rebuttal. "Each crime is charged."

Ultimately, jurors either agreed with Horn's reasoning or had a reason to doubt the first sexual assault count. Both rape charges, however, involved the same facts.

Murder

In jury instructions, Young said second-degree murder involved killing another person with purpose and malice. If the jury did not find Hereford guilty of the crime, they could find him guilty of manslaughter, which only requires intent.

In line with a request from prosecutors, Young told jurors Wyoming law allows them to presume malice if the defendant used a deadly weapon, but does not require them to do so.

Bennett asked the jury to presume malice from how Hereford used his pistol.

Bennett said Aramajo was seated when Hereford shot him first in the shoulder. Armajo rose as Hereford drew closer and shot him in the face, Bennett said.

Hereford pulled the trigger for the third time from "point blank range" and shot Aramjo in the head, Bennet said. The barrel was so close the explosion from the bullet reportedly burned Armajo's scalp.

Hereford in a police interview stated there had been arguing on the night of Sept. 10, Bennett added and pointed to the defendant's behavior after the murder.

"You want malice?" Bennett asked. "How callous can you be to step in a pool of blood and keep on going?"

Horn tried to attack Bennett's reasoning.

"If a citizen puts their hands around (another person's) throat and kills them you shouldn't presume malice," he said. "Only if a gun is there malice."

Horn also said the three shots do not imply malice.

"If I kill an elk with three or four shots that does not mean you should presume I have malice towards that elk," he said.

Jurors in the end agreed with the prosecution that malice was involved and handed down a guilty verdict for murder in the second degree.

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