Natrona County Jury: Man Sexually Abused 16-Year-Old Girl
It took a Natrona County jury of five men and seven women just shy of two hours to convict a man of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor Wednesday.
Natrona County District Court Judge Kerri M. Johnson ordered James D. Tanner to be held without bond pending his sentencing. He faces up to 15 years behind bars.
A sentencing hearing will be scheduled following an investigation into Tanner's history.
Wednesday's guilty verdict was the culmination of a case that began more than three years ago in May 2016 when Bikers Against Child Abuse members contacted Mills police and reported that a 16-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted. The lengthy process was the result of waiting for DNA test results to come back.
According to charging documents, the girl told investigators that Tanner took her to his Casper home where he offered her a white powder. The victim, now 20, testified Monday that she snorted the powder and Tanner told her it was speed.
Tanner and the girl eventually ended up in his bathroom where he had her sit on a counter and eventually the girl ended up laying on the floor. At some point during the incident, Tanner touched her private areas with his hands.
Several hours after the incident, a Wyoming nurse performed a sexual assault examination on the girl. The examination found that she suffered injuries to her private areas consistent with her allegations. It took more than two years for the DNA test to come back. They showed Tanner's DNA on the girl's undergarments as well as inside her genitals.
Defense attorney Joseph Cole argued that the girl framed Tanner so she would be sent back home to Minnesota. Cole noted that her family sent her from Minnesota to Wyoming after she had mental health issues. At one point, she ran away from a treatment center.
Cole said Tanner put himself in a position for "just long enough" that the girl could fabricate the incident.
Assistant Natrona County District Attorney Kevin Taheri derided that notion. If the girl was making it up, how did she have injuries to her genitals consistent with being assaulted, the prosecutor asked? If the victim was trying to frame Tanner, how was his DNA found in her intimate areas and undergarments?
Most importantly, Taheri said, the girl was already back in Minnesota when charges were brought. She had no reason to continue with a ruse, particularly one as egregious.
"If she's framing (Tanner), she's one of the luckiest framers ever," Taheri said during his closing arguments. "She could have jumped off this train, but she describes (being sexually abused) to a courtroom full of strangers."
Tanner, who appeared in court free on $15,000 bond, stared at the floor through much of the three-day trial.
After the verdict was handed down, Taheri asked Johnson to revoke Tanner's bond and hold him without bail pending sentencing.
Cole asked Johnson to allow Tanner to remain free on bond and cited his being present in court and no allegations of wrongdoing against him aside from the initial charge.
Calling Tanner's conviction a severe crime, Johnson revoked his bond. A sheriff's deputy escorted Tanner from the courtroom and took him into custody.