TORRINGTON – The Eighth Judicial District Court in Torrington convened Wednesday, Feb. 10, for a sentencing hearing in the matter of the state of Wyoming versus Gregory Knudsen.
Judge Dawnessa Snyder, a special judge appointed to preside over the case, told the court she would not accept the terms of a plea agreement which recommended Knudsen complete supervised probation in lieu of imprisonment.
“What the court has in front of it are very serious charges,” Snyder said. “With what the court has in front of it, it cannot in good faith accept this plea agreement.”
Snyder told Knudsen he would have a one-time opportunity to withdraw his plea and proceed to trial. Knudsen briefly conferred with his attorney, P. Craig Silva.
“Your honor, Mr. Knudsen is going to withdraw his pleas,” Silva said.
Snyder told the court Knudsen’s pleas would be set aside and the case would be scheduled for trial. Special Prosecutor Kevin Taheri asked Snyder if the case would be proceeding under the original information with all counts. Snyder said it would, as none of the original counts had been dismissed.
Knudsen, a former attorney and municipal judge, is charged with three counts of felony sexual assault, felony burglary, five misdemeanor stalking charges and a misdemeanor charge for unlawful touching. An investigation by the Department of Criminal Investigation resulted in five allegations in which Knudsen had inappropriate contact with women he encountered.
Snyder opened the hearing proclaiming she had reservations about the sentencing agreement after reviewing the victim impact statements in the case. Snyder then opened the case to arguments by the prosecution and defense.
Taheri called Kelly Haefflin, who was sworn in by Snyder and read a statement to the court.
Haefflin told the court she had left Wyoming years before to get away from the “nightmare” her life had become.
She told the court she had sought Knudsen’s “counsel for help and received anything but…Instead, Greg Knudsen lied and made up situations within my case that terrified me,” Haefflin said. “Making me believe I was going to jail, that a warrant was being written be served on me.”
Haefflin expressed sentencing Knudsen to probation was not just.
“As it stands, his sentencing allows for him to walk away, unscathed, whereas none of the women involved were given such options,” Haefflin said. “Not only are we the ones affected, we are being highly discredited, if this plea stands… We are speaking of a previous judge, county attorney who also had a private practice who repeatedly abused his position of power with the full knowledge of what he was doing to a population of people who weren’t. This makes him much worse than the common offender of equal charges.
“Granting this plea to stand sends a clear message to Mr. Knudsen that his actions are merely frowned upon,” she continued. “Granting this plea, is granting Mr. Knudsen the ability to once again, get away with whatever it is he wanted with each individual victim in the case, as well as others that haven’t come forward for obvious reasons.”
After Haefflin’s testimony, Taheri and Silva provided arguments in favor of sentencing Knudsen to probation in lieu of incarceration.
Taheri told the court the prosecution was asking the court to accept the agreement and sentence Knudsen to probation.
He said though some would like to see a prison sentence in the matter, the pre-sentence investigation report supports probation, considering all the factors and risk assessments.
Taheri argued Knudsen is 70 years old with no criminal history, except a game and fish ticket in 2002. Knudsen was disbarred, not for the charges alleged against him, but due to an investigation conducted by the Board of Professional Responsibility.
In addition, Knudsen would have to register as a sex offender. Silva asked Snyder to consider probation as well.
Silva told Snyder the court needed to recognize the state and defense make a measured response to the facts of the case in plea agreement negotiations.
He told the court this was a “touching case, not an intrusion case.” Silva said the defense and prosecution were seeking not only punishment in the matter, but also rehabilitation.
He argued accepting the plea agreement would take away the uncertainty of a trial. Silva said he had never been in a court where the victims were satisfied with the outcome of sentencing and had never seen a pre-sentence report where victims were satisfied with its recommendations.
“The system can never go as far as the system wants,” Silva said.
Knudsen was given the opportunity to address the court prior to Snyder ruling on the matter.
“I’m not sure what to say or where to start,” Knudsen said. “I’m sorry to the court, to the bar, to everybody that believed in me, to everybody I hurt, including my family.”
Knudsen told the court he had lost everything, was suffering from poor health and was living on social security income. He asked the court to consider the recommendations made by the prosecution and defense in the plea agreement.
“I understand your reluctance, but there is a lot of things this court doesn’t know about the charges, but the attorneys do,” Knudsen said. “I hope you’ll trust them and the system and recommendations of probation and parole.”
Due to the withdrawal of Knudsen’s pleas, Knudsen will now be facing the original counts in the Information filed in the court: three counts of felony sexual assault, felony burglary, five misdemeanor stalking charges and a misdemeanor charge for unlawful touching.