Former Casper Cop Gets Probation for Child Abuse, Endangerment
A former Casper police officer who in November admitted to mentally and physically her two children will avoid prison time and will be treated as a first-time offender under Wyoming law.
District Judge Daniel Forgey on Wednesday sentenced Laura Starnes-Wells to a term of probation and a suspended jail sentence. Starnes-Wells had previously pleaded guilty to one felony count of child abuse and one misdemeanor count of child endangerment.
Wyoming Statute 7-13-301 allows for deferred prosecution in cases where the defendant, state and judge agree such a disposition is appropriate. No judgement of guilt or conviction is entered on the record, and the defendant is placed on a term of probation for up to five years.
Starnes-Wells received first-offender treatment on the felony charge and was placed on a term of one to five years of probation. For the misdemeanor charge, she received a suspended jail sentence of one year and a year of probation. Those terms of probation are to be served concurrently.
An affidavit filed by an investigator with the Natrona County Sheriff's Office, which handled the case, pointed to physical and emotional abuse by Starnes-Wells and her then-husband, Todd Wells.
"I think the defendant, at the start of this, intended to do well by her children," Assistant District Attorney Dan Itzen told the court Wednesday. "When you look at what the children were required to do... it is clear that the defendant took this to an extreme, and too far."
"This was a difficult case for both parties," defense attorney Tom Fleener told the court. He said the plea agreement left a "bitter taste" in his mouth, and believed Itzen felt the same way, which Fleener said means it is "the right answer."
In a tearful statement to the court, Starnes-Wells apologized to the children. She previously relinquished her parental rights, which she described as "very difficult."
"Parenting is very difficult, and I made some terrible decisions," she said. "While I was hard on them, I truly do love them, and I know they know that."
"I didn't have what it takes to help them the way they needed," Starnes-Wells continued. "I stand before you broken."
But, Starnes-Wells said, she will continue to "pick up the pieces." She said she is enrolling in college and working so she can forge a new career for herself.
Todd Wells, who was a Sergeant with the Casper Police Department at the time he was charged, was initially charged with a misdemeanor count of child endangerment. That charge was later dismissed.
In his motion to dismiss, Assistant District Attorney Brett Johnson said the state intended to refile the case against Wells and include an additional charge.
Todd Wells remains employed with the Casper Police Department as a sergeant.