Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Mills Man’s Child Abuse Conviction
The Wyoming Supreme Court on Monday upheld the conviction of a Mills man who abused his 12-year-old son so badly that he suffered permanent brain damage.
The Natrona County District Attorney's Office charged Ryan Hilyard and Sarah Hilyard in November 2020 with the aggravated child abuse of his son (initials KH in court documents), and with child abuse of her 11-year-old step-son (initials LT in court documents).
A jury convicted Ryan Hilyard of aggravated child abuse of KH and child abuse of LT. He was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 18 to 20 years for aggravated child abuse of KH and five to 10 years for child abuse.
(Sarah Hilyard, pleaded no contest to attempted second-degree murder and child abuse. She was sentenced to 25 to 35 years imprisonment for the attempted second-degree murder count, and a consecutive sentence of five to 10 years for child abuse.)
Hilyard appealed his conviction to the Wyoming Supreme Court with the question whether the district court abused its discretion by admitting LT's out-of-court statement that he saw the abuse inflicted on KH after he initially lied that KH's injuries were caused by an accident.
The Supreme Court ruled that the district court acted appropriately.
Justice Lynne Boomgaarden wrote the opinion, recounting the facts of the case that went to trial in November 2021.
LT testified he watched Ryan Hilyard forced KH to run up and down the stairs of their house as punishment for stealing cake at a family picnic in Riverton on Aug. 2, 2020.
Ryan was at the bottom of the stairs and his wife Sarah was at the top of the stairs. If KH didn't make run to the top, Ryan would force him to keep going. If KH did make it, Sarah would shove him down the stairs. She also told LT to push KH down the stairs.
KH eventually passed out.
Ryan and Sarah kicked and punched him until they realized he wasn't faking it.
Four days later, Sarah Hilyard took KH to the Wyoming Medical Center. He was unresponsive and had about 40 bruises and numerous injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, according to the Supreme Court summary.
"Medical staff contacted police because they suspected child abuse. KH had to be transported to Colorado for treatment due to the severity of his injuries. He suffered permanent brain damage," according to the opinion.
However, Ryan and Sarah Hilyard, and KH and his brother, initially claimed in separate interviews that KH fell down the stairs.
The children were taken into foster care. Later in August 2020, LT told his foster mother that an accident did not cause KH's injuries.
A Department of Family Services investigator and a detected conducted a recorded interview with LT, who said Ryan Hilyard told them to lie because he didn't want to go to prison.
"LT was afraid Mr. Hilyard would hurt him if he did not lie because Mr. Hilyard picked the children up by their throats a lot and sometimes hit them with a leather belt," according to the Supreme Court's summary.
During the trial, the prosecution asked the court to admit the first 14 minutes of the recorded interview.
Ryan Hilyard's attorney unsuccessfully objected.
The jury found Hilyard guilty.
In his appeal, Hilyard claimed that three of four requirements were not satisfied about admitting in court "a prior consistent statement."
The Supreme Court discussed those requirements and why Hilyard's arguments failed:
- Hilyard asserted that LT could have been cross-examined early one day during the trial. But LT left the court and was not available when the Department of Family Services investigator presented that statement.
LT could have been recalled for cross-examination, but there was no indication Hilyard made any effort to recall him, nor did the court prevent Hilyard from recalling him, according to the opinion.
- Hilyard asserted that the prior statement in the interview was not consistent with what LT said during the trial.
During the trial, "LT testified his mother told him to push KH, but in his recorded interview LT stated they told him to push KH," according to the opinion.
The Supreme Court said the statements are consistent.
- Hilyard asserted LT during the trial said his story about what happened to KH may have changed a little bit each time he told it. The defense suggested someone may have pressure to disclose the abuse. However, LT said, "To his recollection that no one else pressured him to say anything," according to the opinion.
The Supreme Court concluded, "The district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting LT's out of court statement as a prior consistent statement .... Affirmed."