Colorado Man Pleads Not Guilty to Badger Creek Fire Burglaries
A Colorado man accused of stealing guns from evacuated homes west of Laramie during the Badger Creek fire appeared in Albany County District Court on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to three felony charges.
Jayce Bradley Peterson, 34, faces charges of aggravated burglary, accessory before the fact to burglary and felony theft. If convicted of all counts, he could face five to 45 years in prison.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, an Albany County Sheriff's deputy was dispatched to a residence located in the evacuation area of the Badger Creek Fire for a report of burglary during the month of June. The homeowner reported having left the area on June 11 and returned June 17, when he discovered that his home and shop had been broken into. Three firearms and other miscellaneous items were reported missing.
On June 28, Albany County Undersheriff Josh DeBree learned that one of the missing firearms, a Smith and Wesson 500 revolver, had been pawned two days prior at Plan B Pawn Shop in Steamboat Springs, Colorado by Peterson.
A detective with the sheriff's office visited the pawn shop where he made contact with Peterson. Peterson told the detective that he purchased the handgun from a friend and owned it for about a year. He said he pawned it to help pay for a boat, which contradicted the story he had given the pawn shop owner, according to the affidavit.
The handgun was later confirmed to have been purchased by a family member of the victim in 2005.
Peterson told the detective that it had been years since he visited Wyoming, but later admitted he had recently been camping on Boswell Creek Road, located within the evacuation area.
On July 9, detectives learned that Peterson had previous contact with Colorado law enforcement which confirmed Peterson's presence in the evacuation zone around the time of the reported burglary.
On June 14, a Jackson County, Colorado sheriff's deputy found Peterson sleeping in his truck. Peterson told the deputy that he was traveling to Steamboat Springs to see his mother. Two days later, a deputy in Larimer County, Colorado reported Peterson's truck as having been abandoned.
Peterson was eventually arrested in Colorado and extradited to Albany County.
The Albany County Sheriff's Office said in a press release earlier this week that Peterson admitted his involvement and disclosed the location of a stolen ATV, which was returned to the rightful owners.
During Thursday's arraignment, defense attorney David Korman said that the statement from the sheriff's office was problematic on several fronts. In particular, Korman pointed out to District Judge Tori Kricken that the release did not mention Peterson is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
"I think it's entirely inappropriate," said Korman. He suggested Kricken admonish the sheriff's office for the release, saying that it did not deal with potential constitutional issues regarding how evidence was gathered and the alleged confession Peterson gave during his interview with investigators.
Korman noted threatening comments made about his client on Facebook pages once the information from the Sheriff's Office was released, adding that he felt the law enforcement statement has likely influenced potential jurors.
Korman also mentioned that he intends to discuss with Peterson a potential motion for trial to be held outside of Laramie in the interest of keeping legal proceedings impartial.
Prosecuting attorney Ben Harwich responded by saying that the information in the sheriff's office statement is public record, with which Kricken agreed. Kricken did say that she thought the manner in which the information was presented by the sheriff's office was concerning, saying the release "contained significantly more information than was reasonably necessary."
Peterson remains in custody on a $15,000 bond, an amount that Korman felt was beyond Peterson's means. Kricken declined to reduce bond on Thursday, saying that Peterson is a flight risk. He is also wanted by law enforcement in at least two jurisdictions in Colorado.
Harwich felt Peterson's bond was justified, saying Peterson drove to Wyoming specifically for the purpose of burglarizing evacuated homes, that he had an accomplice and that some of the stolen guns still have not been located.
"These circumstances mean Peterson remains a danger to the community," said Harwich.
A trial is scheduled for May 7-9.