Three Accused of Felonies Bound Over For Trial; Two Waive Preliminary Hearings
Three of five defendants charged with felonies in Natrona County Circuit Court waived their preliminary hearings on Thursday, meaning their cases were bound over to state district court for trial.
Two other defendants pleaded guilty to reduced charges and were sentenced.
The defendant facing the most serious charges, Luke VanBerkom, waived his preliminary hearing on one count of child abuse and one count of aggravated child abuse, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.
Circuit Court Judge Brian Christensen denied the request by VanBerkom's public defender Robert Oldham to have his bond reduced from $150,000 to $50,000. Oldham said VanBerkom lives with his mother in Sheridan, which is in a different county where the alleged victims now live.
But Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hambrick responded that Christensen set the $150,000 bond because of VanBerkom's conviction on a previous child abuse case and that he poses a danger to the community.
Two defendants, Kyle Stickley and Zachary Hammond, waived their preliminary hearings. They were charged with second degree sexual assault after they had sex with the same 14-year-old girl they met on a social media website. They remain in custody on $20,000 bonds.
Two other defendants reached plea agreements with prosecutors. These defendants' felony charges were reduced to misdemeanor charges.
The first of those defendants was John Tucker, who was initially charged with strangulation and domestic battery. The Natrona County District Attorney's office dismissed the strangulation count and amended the domesty batter to a count of unlawful conduct.
Christensen sentenced Tucker to one year of probation and ordered him to have no contact with the victim.
The second defendant was Dillion Wise, who was charged with aggravated assault on a pregnant female, and one count of interference when he took away a phone from the victim when she tried to call police. Wise pleaded guilty to an amended misdemeanor count of battery and the original interference charge.
Christensen sentenced him to 90 days in jail, one year of probation, no contact with the victim, and anger management counseling and family counseling.