Fugitive for Five Years Pleads Not Guilty to Escape in Natrona County
Kenneth James Ward had to go.
Then he went.
Now he's back awaiting trial for escape.
On Aug. 31, 2013, Ward was among 12 inmates being transported from Arizona to Sweetwater County when their van stopped on Wyoming Highway 220 at Independence Rock for a bathroom break, according to court records.
He was wearing only handcuffs, and was later seen on surveillance video opening a door for the other inmates.
Then he walked away.
His whereabouts were mostly unknown for nearly five years until he was captured by authorities in in Roswell, N.M., in May 2018.
Since then, he's been in the custody of Sweetwater County, and now Natrona County facing prosecution on the escape charge.
On Tuesday, Ward, 57, pleaded not guilty to escape during his arraignment in Natrona County District Court, and remains in custody on a $1 million bond. Judge Kerri Johnson set Feb. 18 for his trial.
Before his escape, Ward had a lengthy criminal record, including child abuse and wrongful buying and receiving property.
In August 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's criminal investigation division issued a bulletin saying Ward was wanted on federal fraud charges of illegally dumping radioactive waste in North Dakota starting in 2011.
Four months earlier, a grand jury for the U.S. District Court in Montana indicted Ward on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud.
In 2010, Ward was charged in Sweetwater County with four felonies -- three counts of wrongful taking or disposing of property and one counts of larceny by bailee.
His bond was set at $100,000 and reset at $1 million cash after he went to Montana after being charged, then failed to appear at a status conference in February 2012, and then escaped at Independence Rock.
After his capture in May 2018, the Sweetwater County prosecuting attorney brought the case again. Two months ago, Ward pleaded no contest to one of the counts, was sentenced to a suspended eight- to 10-year prison term with credit for 515 days of time served, and ordered to serve three years of supervised probation.
Now it's his turn in Natrona County.