UPDATE: Lovcom Again Seeks Richardson-McMurry Records From DCI
UPDATE: 6:20 pm --
Former Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel blocked certain aspects of the death of Mick McMurry following his death in March 2015, the lead detective on the case said Friday.
"We couldn't do a complete, thorough investigation because of the constraints placed on us," former Casper Police Detective Gary Kassay said during a hearing in Natrona County District Court.
For example, Kassay said the surviving spouse is the first person who should be interviewed after the death of a spouse.
"I was given approval (to interview Susie McMurry) 19 days after he died," he said.
Kassay also was not allowed to look at why, of the 28 security cameras at the McMurry mansion on Newport Street, only one was not operating the night of McMurry's death and that camera would have surveilled the area where he died, he said.
Kassay, who worked for the police department from 2008 to 2016, said he never could get an adequate answer from Wetzel why he could not investigate those matters.
After the hearing Wetzel, who did not testify, vehemently disagreed with Kassay's comments.
Wetzel said in a phone interview, “I in no way impeded Gary Kassay’s ability to conduct his investigation. For Gary to insinuate anything contrary to that is a blatant and spitefully motivated misstatement of fact.”
Kassay was among several people called to testify in a hearing in the lawsuit by Lovcom, or Sheridan Media, filed against the Casper Police Department a year ago seeking records about how it handled the investigations of McMurry's suicide and the disappearance of businesswoman Kristi Richardson in October 2014.
About two weeks after the City of Casper dismissed Wetzel, interim Police Chief Steve Schulz turned over the cases to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation.
The DCI, through the Wyoming Attorney General's Office, has resisted Lovcom's request, saying disclosing information would be contrary to the public interest because it may impair the investigation or compromise the prosecution of the case, according to court records.
The hearing Friday was for the DCI to show why it should not release the records
Lovcom, through its attorney Bruce Moats of Cheyenne, first claims the information is of great interest to the public, according to a document filed in Natrona County District Court on Wedesday. "Second, information gathered about the conduct of the investigation raises legitimate questions as to whether the department administration manipulated the investigation, steering it away from certain areas and toward others."
Lovcom is only interested in the information from the Casper Police Department until the Richardson and McMurry cases were turned over to the DCI, and it has no intention of interfering with the DCI's investigations, Moats said.
At the end of the nearly three-hour hearing, Assistant Attorney General John Brodie said he wanted to give, in writing, his closing arguments to Judge Thomas Sullins. Moats was ready with a final oral closing argument, but agreed to submit his in writing, too. Sullins gave Brodie and Moats until June 11 to file their arguments.
During Kassay's testimony, he said he told the DCI about the obstruction by Wetzel. After the Natrona County Coroner stated McMurry's death was a suicide, Wetzel said
Under cross-examination by Brodie, Kassay said he was told to not put certain information in his report that was turned over to the DCI.
Brodie asked Kassay if he would mind if his reports were available to the public.
Kassay responded that he wouldn't want everything revealed, but releasing some information may help in an investigation. That would need to be done on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Besides Kassay, Moats asked a private investigator hired by Love to testify.
Jay Lanphere, who has worked with he Denver Police Department and the Colorado Department of Corrections, said Love hired him to get an independent look at the case and "shake the tree and see what falls out."
Lanphere met with Richardson's daughter, Amber Fazio, who was cooperative and expressed her frustration with the police department's lack of communication with her.
He said he was puzzled by the department's stonewalling him in his requests for information, especially in light of the Richardson disappearance being featured on the "Crime Watch Daily" television show.
Lanphere sometimes brought up questions he had about the Richardson investigation, but some of his comments about evidence were from other sources.
Brodie objected in part to because some comments were hearsay, and some veered close to the DCI'S work.
Sullins agreed, saying that the rules of evidence that apply in trials also applied during this hearing.
Moats also called Love to the stand.
Love said he became interested in the cases, even though he lives in Sheridan, because he heard a tip of an alleged affair between McMurry and Richardson, which he said was later confirmed by someone whose relative worked with one of McMurry's companies.
That's when he hired Lanphere to look at the seriousness of a missing person, the alleged romantic involvement, the suicide of the most prominent private resident of the state, and the possibility of a cover-up by the Casper Police Department, he said.
During cross-examination, Brodie asked Love about his experience with law enforcement, whether he had any experience, training or ever investigated a murder.
Love responded "no" to each question.
UPDATE: 3:20 pm - The hearing began with Assistant Attorney General John Brodie asking that the hearing be closed to the press, and Judge Sullins denied the motion.
The first witness called was Steve Woodson, the Director of the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation.
Brodie led the questioning with an explanation of how investigations are handled and the work of the Cold Case Unit.
Woodson talked about things that are not subject to the Public Records Act including autopsy results and some interviews. He said the primary interest at DCI is to protect the integrity of the investigation.
Woodson was asked if there was a cover- up in either the Richardson or McMurry case, and he said absolutely not.
Lovecom attorney Bruce Moats then cross-examined Woodson about why some information could not be made public. He answered that it can hamper the successful prosecution of a case. Moats asked if DCI interviewed Casper Police officers. Woodson said that should not be revealed. Moats asked if media coverage was a problem. Woodson said only one TV interview where the presence of a cell phone in the Richardson house was mentioned. He said they would not have revealed that.
Moats then asked if DCI had come to a different conclusion on the suicide ruling in the case of the death of Mick McMurry. At that point Brodie objected and Judge Sullins sustained it.
The court then took a break. We will have more when they reconvene.
Several people who have been called to testify in Natrona County District Court today may shed more light on the Casper Police Department's investigation of the disappearance of businesswoman Kristi Richardson in 2014, the apparent suicide of Mick McMurry in 2015, and any connection between the two.
The hearing was requested by the Sheridan media company Lovcom and its owner Kim Love, who last year sued the Casper Police Department seeking information about the investigations under the Wyoming Public Records Act.
Testimony may include comments by a former Casper Police Detective who was told not to investigate certain areas in both cases, and that he was not allowed to interview McMurry's widow until 19 days after the apparent suicide.
The witness list presented to the court by Lovcom indicates the hearing may also include testimony from a retired police officer hired by Lovcom as a private investigator, who says he interviewed family members and found, in the words of the document, "...a domestic servant of the McMurrys had called Richardson's daughter and indicated she knew of a relationship between McMurry and Richardson. McMurry's head of security then called the family to report that a similar call had been made to Mrs. McMurry. He will also testify that the family stated Mrs. McMurry was told to purchase the Richardson home and move there after his death."
Interim Police Chief Steve Schulz turned over the cases to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation
Schulz had been called to testify, but Moats and Brodie agreed that he didn't need to, so Sullins dismissed him.
Earlier this year, Sullins ordered the records about the Richardson and McMurry cases sealed, but allowed Love and Moats, and only them, permission to receive copies of indexes of those files. Sullins later denied Lovcom's motions to have former Police Chief Chris Walsh and Detective Shannon Daley deposed, agreeing with Assistant Attorney General John Brodie who said the officers' potential testimonies could get too close to the substance of the investigation.
Love admitted in an interview with K2 Radio News that there was personal animosity between McMurray and him, and did not deny that it may be one factor in his interest in the case.