Lawyer Complaints

A Prosecutor Blanked a Court Order and a Man Was Sentenced to Life. Now He’s on Trial in Wyoming.

Ex-prosecutor Becket Hinckley is facing possible disciplinary action for alleged misconduct in the prosecution of Josh Black.

Wyoming Bar panel recommends disbarment as Hinckley’s punishment

MAY 13, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAY 14, 2021

After hearing three days of testimony in the Wyoming State Bar’s disciplinary case against former Teton County deputy prosecutor Becket Hinckley, a bar panel found Hinckley violated seven rules of professional conduct and will recommend to the Wyoming Supreme Court that he be disbarred.

“I take no pleasure in this,”

presiding officer and former Albany County judge Jeffrey Donnell said.

“I have known Mr. Hinckley since he was 6 years old. This is a real tragedy.”

In his closing statements Wednesday, bar counsel Mark Gifford said Hinckley deserves to be stripped of his law license.

Steve Kline, who’s representing Hinckley, said a three-year suspension of his client’s license to practice law is more appropriate because before his “screw ups” in the prosecution of Josh Black, there had been no formal complaints lodged against Hinckley.

Upon hearing the recommendation, Black told reporters he felt pride.

“I will never get the six years back they stole from me,”

he said.

Hinckley addressed the tribunal Wednesday just before closing arguments, calling this week’s proceeding “fair … transparent and uncomfortable.”

“I am not proud of this,”

he told the panel.

“I failed the people of the state of Wyoming, the people of Teton County and myself. More importantly I failed Kelli [Windsor] and her family.”

Black, 41, testified Monday as the star witness in the disciplinary hearing against Hinckley, who’s on administrative trial for a laundry list of alleged misconduct during Black’s 2015 aggravated assault trial.

A Wyoming Bar Association panel has recommended that Becket Hinckley be disbarred due to his misconduct during the 2015 trial of Josh Black, whose conviction was later overturned by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Black’s conviction was reversed in 2017 by the Wyoming Supreme Court. Justices wrote in their opinion that Hinckley was guilty of prosecutorial misconduct, resulting in an unfair trial.

Black took a plea agreement later, sued Teton County and has been working with the state Bar in going after Hinckley’s law license.

The tribunal concluded Hinckley violated rules of conduct by ignoring court orders to get online records, misrepresenting his efforts to get those records, and more.

Hinckley hasn’t practiced law since his 2019 resignation from the Teton County Attorney’s Office.

The discipline will ultimately be decided by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

This is the first disciplinary hearing in Wyoming that’s been open to the public and press. It took place at the Ramkota Conference Center and Hotel in Casper.

Gifford said he hopes such hearings are as transparent going forward.

Black said he’s going to try and get exonerated.

“Our legal system is based off the foundation of fair play,” he said. “Its judgments and rulings have profound effect on not only the accused and accusers, but also everyone associated with them. The ripple effect is massive. So when prosecutors violate the law to ensure a conviction at all costs, tilting the scales of justice, we have to realize the deviation it can cause to the entire community.”

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Man wants new trial in life sentence case

DEC 21, 2016 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAY 14, 2021

A man who asserts he received sloppy justice in Teton County has taken his case to the high court.

Joshua Roy Delbert Black, 36, appealed his case to the Wyoming Supreme Court, saying he deserves a new trial.

Attorneys argued both sides Dec. 14 before Wyoming’s five justices.

“This case should be sent back, and Mr. Black should receive a fair trial,”

defense attorney Patricia Bennett said in court.

Black filed a brief with the Wyoming Supreme Court in December 2015 arguing that the prosecutor, the public defender and the judge engaged in behavior that harmed his right to a fair trial.

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A Teton County jury convicted Black of aggravated assault and battery in October 2015. He was given a life sentence because he was found to be a habitual criminal.

Black had prior felony convictions including a DUI, corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant and assault with a deadly weapon, all from Orange County, California.

Deputies arrested Black in October 2014 in Teton Village after a woman texted a picture of her bloody face to a co-worker. Their boss called police. The woman told deputies Black hit her, according to records.

Black denied hitting the woman, saying he had gone to bed the night before and woke up to her damaged face.

Doctors determined the woman suffered a brain bleed, nasal bone fractures and a skull fracture. Black’s domestic battery charge was amended to aggravated assault.

The two met on Tinder, and after a few months of dating, Black moved to Jackson to live with the victim, records state.

The Wyoming State Crime Laboratory tested the clothing Black was wearing at the time he was arrested, and Black’s jeans and T-shirt tested positive for blood that matched the victim, records state.

“Photographs of Black’s hands after the assault showed bruising and swelling on his knuckles as well as on his palms,” the Supreme Court’s brief reads.

Black took several issues to the high court. He claims prosecutors engaged in at least two kinds of misconduct during the trial.

The brief argues prosecutors and law enforcement violated court orders by not contacting Facebook or Verizon to obtain the victim’s Facebook and cellphone records.

The brief notes that prosecutors did not contact the companies, nor did they inform the Teton County Sheriff’s Office that there was a court order requiring the state do so.

The state said it would get the information and then “just ignored the order,” Bennett said.

While Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Becket Hinckley asked the sheriff’s office to contact Facebook and Verizon, he did not present it as a court-ordered mandate, causing deputies to determine that “they didn’t feel that was their role,” according to the brief.

“The sheriff then admitted on cross-examination that he had not seen the court order and did not know he was under any order of the trial court,” the brief states.

Defense attorneys argued that some of that information might have helped Black’s case.

“We believe there are pictures of the alleged victim in Teton Village having dinner and drinks with another individual,” Bennett said in court.

Black consistently said the victim, Kelli Windsor-Denin, was assaulted by someone else and that he not only didn’t hurt her but never would have done so.

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“I was not the first,” Windsor-Denin previously testified, “and I would not have been the last. I wanted to keep this from happening to other women.”

Defense attorneys argued that because Hinckley included his opinion of the defense’s argument in his closing statement and referred to the victim by her first name in questioning, he violated rules of trial conduct in a way that prejudiced the jury against Black.

The defense hoped to present the possibility that Windsor-Denin had left her house and met someone besides Black, and that person assaulted her and she did not remember due to an Ambien-induced blackout.

Because of those reasons the defense counsel believes Black deserves a new trial.

“Regardless of if a defendant is a good guy or a bad guy, it doesn’t matter,” Bennett said. “They all deserve a fair trial.”

Hinckley argued the state of Wyoming’s position before the Supreme Court.

The court’s order to have the state seek information from independent companies was improper, according to the brief.

“There was implication that the state of Wyoming ignored the court’s order,” Hinckley said in court. “Kind of, but not really. We tried to get records from Facebook and Verizon. We desperately tried.”

Black alleges that the state’s non-compliance with this order amounts to prosecutorial misconduct.

“However, because the order was improper, it is not reversible error for the state to have failed to seek out and provide the requested information — information that Black’s trial counsel acknowledged was information that the defense could have (but chose not to) obtain,” the brief reads.

The strength of the state’s case ensures that the jury convicted Black on the evidence presented and not on improper assertions by the prosecutor, the brief notes.

Evidence presented during trial included testimony from the victim, testimony from medical personnel, photos of her injuries, blood evidence tying Black to the crime and photos of Black’s bruised hands.

“As such, his conviction should stand,” the brief reads.

Wyoming Supreme Court Justices William Hill, James Burke, Michael Davis, Keith Kautz and Kate Fox will decide if Black will get a new trial.

“I hope all five justices rule in my favor, but it only takes three,” Hinckley said.

Black is serving the life sentence at Wyoming State Penitentiary.

A Prosecutor Blanked a Court Order and a Man Was Sentenced to Life. Now He’s on Trial in Wyoming.
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