Former Casper Police Officer gets plea deal due to budget issues

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CASPER, Wy. (KGWN)- Former Casper Police Officer Laura Starnes-Wells pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and child endangering Tuesday afternoon (November 28).

Wells turned herself into custody two weeks after warrants were issued in February following reports of her abusing her two children from 2008 until 2016.

Courts heard testimony of psychological abuse by isolation, deprivation, shame-based punishment in school and punishment for stuttering during her preliminary hearing.

The charge of felony child abuse carries a sentence of ten years in prison.

In court, Wells accepted a plea deal with state prosecutors, using her 301 option and plead guilty to the charges. The 301 means she faces a suspended sentence of one to five years of probation and if she does everything the court tells her to do, she won't end up a convicted felon.

Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen says a budgetary issue was a factor in the plea deal that was reached. To hire an expert witness to discuss the mental abuse of the victims it would have, according to Blonigen costed the city up to $12,000.

"This case would have been better with an independent mental health expert beyond those we already had, we had some evidence of that but additional experts, that would have been quite expensive."

He continued speaking about expert witnesses, “It is a factor though, you don't have as good of a case as you would like to have and that goes into often times, whether you make a plea agreement or not."

Blonigen agreed the kids had been abused and said the case does not sit well with him.

He said during the interview, Wells being a former Casper Police officer was not a factor in the decision or the deal.

As for the evidence in the case, Blonigen was not able to discuss the merits of the case but did mention the court file.

“Thirty pages doesn’t reflect the merit, that is not thirty pages of individual incidences, that is just various basic evidence covering the same incidences.”

Casper's human resources manager said Wells resigned from her city position on November 25th.

Blonigen finished sharing how the kids involved are doing,
“They are working on things. I think at the heart, they are good kids that have had a tough go at things. They have some issues to work on.”

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