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Laramie County Governmental Complex on 20th Street in Cheyenne. WTE/file

CHEYENNE – A man who was accused of sexually abusing his stepdaughter was found not guilty by a jury Friday afternoon in Laramie County District Court.

Joel Cirbo, 44, was charged with sexual abuse of a minor and incest: stepparent and stepchild. His case was heard in front of District Judge Thomas Campbell.

The verdict came after a four-day trial and about two hours of jury deliberations. The jury also found him not guilty of an alternative charge of sexual battery.

Defense attorney Dion Custis said he thinks the verdict was the right decision, and the evidence was just too inconsistent and questionable.

In his closing argument, he said about 80% of what people heard in the case was about family issues. It had a lot to do with the issues the victim had with her mother, and the case was about that dysfunction.

The evidence lying on the table before the jury proves Cirbo never touched his stepdaughter, he said. He referenced that the sexual assault nurse examiner found no evidence Cirbo touched the victim.

He also brought up inconsistencies between the 2017 story and the 2019 story the victim told the jury. He asked the jury which story they were going to believe.

Cirbo also had seven years where he could have assaulted the victim before this, and he didn’t. Custis asked the jury why Cirbo would wait seven years, when the victim was in bed with her own mother, to assault anyone.

“That’s unbelievable; that didn’t happen,” Custis said.

In the state’s closing argument, prosecuting attorney Angela Dougherty said the case was very straightforward. She said the evidence corroborated the victim’s story.

She said Cirbo was grooming the victim over those seven years, and sexual assault is a crime of opportunity – and Cirbo allegedly saw his opportunity.

“This case is all about his actions. What he did to his stepdaughter in that bed,” she said.

Cirbo was originally charged July 30, 2017, when the victim and her family came to Cheyenne for Frontier Days. The alleged incident occurred when the victim was sleeping in between her mother and Cirbo in a hotel bed.

Custis argued that the victim’s mother wasn’t stumbling drunk like the state said, referencing security footage from the hotel of the family, and the mother didn’t recall anything happening in bed. She said the only thing she remembered was her daughter cuddling up against her while they slept.

The victim also went back to sleep after the alleged assault occurred, and Custis said this didn’t make any sense. The victim is very outspoken, and he asked the jury why she didn’t get out of bed then or say anything in the middle of the night.

Dougherty said the victim didn’t because she was exhausted after staying awake for 22 hours.

“They know there’s problems with the story,” Custis said. “So they’re trying to play on your sympathy.”

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.

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