LANDER, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming man pleaded guilty Thursday in the shooting of two American Indian men that exposed racial tensions in a reservation border town.
Roy Clyde, 32, faces life in prison with no possibility of parole under a plea agreement that spares him the death penalty. Clyde is a former parks worker for the city of Riverton, on the border of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Clyde admitted in court that he walked into the Center of Hope detox center on July 18 and shot and killed Stallone Trosper, 29, as Trosper lay on a bed. He also shot James "Sonny" Goggles, 50, in the head, critically injuring him. Clyde then calmly surrendered to police outside the center.
Trosper and Goggles are members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. The shootings have outraged tribal leaders, who have demanded a federal hate crimes investigation.
Victims' relatives were upset after Thursday's hearing because Clyde, under questioning of his lawyer, said he was targeting transients regardless of their race — not specifically hunting American Indians.
Defense lawyer Nick Beduhn questioned Clyde in court about his actions to establish a factual basis for the guilty pleas. Clyde affirmed that he had considered killing transients before the day he shot Trosper and Goggles.
"You would agree with me that regardless of race, you were specifically looking to kill transient people in the city of Riverton," Beduhn asked Clyde.
"That is correct," Clyde said.
District Judge Norman Young questioned Clyde in detail about whether he understood that by pleading guilty he was giving up his right to a jury trial. Young will hold a sentencing hearing in coming weeks.
Clyde, a stocky man with close-cropped, light brown hair and a beard, appeared in court wearing orange jail clothing and shackles. He answered Young's questions in a rough, high-pitched voice that often seemed on the verge of cracking. He didn't turn to look at scores of American Indians in the courtroom.
Despite Clyde's denial, victims' relatives said after the hearing that they strongly believe Clyde targeted the men because they were American Indians.
James Trosper, Stallone Trosper's uncle, addressed reporters after the hearing and said he believes the shootings were racially motivated.
"In the court, it was said that the shooting was looking for transient people," James Trosper said. "And I think that if a person is going to be honest, the court is the place where they should be honest about what their motives were."
Dorene Whiting, Stallone Trosper's mother, said after the hearing that she didn't believe Clyde's statement that he was merely looking for transients regardless of race.
Whiting said she would prefer to see Clyde face harsher punishment than life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"I want it to be more," she said. "But he's the one who has to sit there and think about what he's done."
Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney Patrick LeBrun issued a statement after the court hearing saying he agreed to the plea because it guarantees that Clyde will spend the rest of his life in prison.
LeBrun noted that no Wyoming jury in the past 10 years has authorized the death penalty and that the state hasn't executed anyone in nearly 25 years. Even if the state sought the death penalty against Clyde at great expense, he said there's no reasonable possibility he would receive it.
Stephanie C'Hair, the wife of Goggles' nephew, said this week that Goggles remains hospitalized at a Veterans Administration facility in Sheridan. She declined to comment on his condition.
As painful as the crimes remain for the victims' families, they also have served as a catalyst to attempt to improve relations between the tribes and the non-Indian population in Riverton and the larger Fremont County area. About 11,000 people live in Riverton.
In recent years, tribal members achieved a greater say in local government by winning a federal lawsuit that ended at-large voting for county commissioners. Fremont County opposed the lawsuit.
More recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared Riverton itself remains legally Indian Country. Acting on a request by the tribes to be treated as separate entities under the Clean Air Act, the EPA said Riverton was never formally removed from the Wind River Indian Reservation. The state and local governments are bitterly contesting its findings in court.
Riverton Police Chief Mike Broadhead said this week he believes the community has entered a period of calm after the shootings. His department is reviewing candidates for the newly created position of community relations ombudsman, which he said will handle complaints about the treatment of American Indians.
City and tribal leaders have announced three community meetings in October and November to discuss racial issues and areas for improving understanding.