Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney Michael Bennett.
(Fremont County, Wyo.) – A family member of 2010 shooting victim Leroy Hoster has started an online petition that pushes for the removal of Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney Michael Bennett from office.
Kami Spencer, the mother of Hoster’s child, started the petition following Bennett’s decision to drop all charges against Gabriel Drennen, who had been charged by a previous county attorney for First Degree Murder.
“Mr. Bennett does not appear to care about the victims of crimes. He has demonstrated an alarming pattern of plea bargaining cases that should be heard before a jury,” Spencer writes in the petition. “He has stated publicly to the local press that justice can be served by plea bargains, however, he doesn’t take into consideration how any Professionals (Officers of the Law) or victims of the crimes in question feel about these plea bargains.”
With regard to felony criminal trials per year, Bennett has essentially doubled the amount compared to former County Attorney Brian Varn. According to Clerk of the District Court Kristi Green there were two trials in 2011 and two in 2012. There was one trial under Varn at the start of 2013. Since Bennett came to office in March 2013, there have been four felony criminal trials.
“Trial is a last resort, and it always will be,” Bennett said, adding, “That’s everywhere in the United States.”
The petition, which as of publication of this story has 133 supporters, asks the Fremont County Commission to remove Bennett from office. The commission appointed Bennett following Varn’s resignation. The position is up for re-election this November.
Speaking of the Drennen dismissal, Spencer writes, “There is nothing further that I can do about the Drennen case, but this is going to come across as ‘open season’ in Fremont County. Whether he will admit it or not this set’s (sic) the precedent that you can kill someone in Fremont County and get away with it.”
“It seems people are upset because I chose to follow the law,” Bennett said in an interview. “The law is the law, and I’m obligated to follow it.”
He said that many facts that are never made known to the public go into his decision making process on how to prosecute a case, and he said he tries to be as transparent on a case by case basis as possible. “Probable cause is way different than beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. With regard to Drennen, Bennett noted that the previous County Attorney administration was found by the Wyoming Supreme Court to have acted unethically during the 2011 trial. He said he would have been just as unethical if he had tried to get a jury to make a decision based on sentiment rather than law. “If you can’t get a fair trial in Fremont County, something’s wrong,” he said.
“We need to let it be known that letting people off easy is not acceptable to the Citizens of Fremont County and Mr. Bennett has started it all with these plea bargains,” Spencer writes.
Bennett also noted that at times judges will approve lesser sentences than what his office requests in plea agreements. He said the comments posted with the petition show a lack of understanding of the law.
In an interview, Commission Chairman Doug Thompson said he was unaware of the petition. Spencer is scheduled to meet with the commission at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
“We have no authority to make him leave,” Thompson said, adding the most the commission could do is ask for resignation. He said the commission will listen to Spencer next week.