Trial begins in sex abuse case involving 12- 13-year-old

LARAMIE — A felony trial against Laramie man Steven Oliver Nelder began this week in Albany County’s district court. The 22-year-old has been charged with one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor and three counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor for “inflict(ing) sexual intrusion” on two children, aged 12 and 13.

If convicted of first-degree sexual abuse, Nelder would be subject to a minimum prison sentence of 25 years.

The charges stem from two incidents in 2017, when one of the girls — identified as C.H. in court documents — detailed her sexual relationship with Nelder to police.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, C.H. and the other victim, K.G., went with Nelder in October 2017 to his motor home on Chaparral Drive and agreed to a “threesome.”

C.H. was 13 years old and K.G. was 12. Nelder was 20 years old at the time.

“Nelder first engaged in sexual intercourse with C.H., with the entire encounter lasting around one hour,” the affidavit states. “After this occurred, Nelder drove C.H. and K.G. back to C.H.’s residence.”

Nelder later told police he thought both girls were 13. He also “admitted that on November 6, 2017, he picked C.H. from school, took her back to his motor home, and then had sexual intercourse.”

“Nelder admitted that he knew having sexual intercourse with C.H. and K.G. was illegal and he would probably get into trouble for it, but he thought such activity should be legal,” according to the affidavit.

C.H. told police that the three agreed to “keep quiet” because they “did not want (Nelder) to get in trouble.”

Police first became aware of the trio’s relationship after K.G.’s mother found sexually explicit text messages on her daughter’s phone.

Police also found nude photos of Nelder on K.G.’s cell phone, for which Nelder was also charged with “promoting obscenity.”

Jeffrey McKinney, a deputy with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, also found “hundreds of messages of a sexual nature” between Nelder and the two victims.

Under Wyoming law, a person who’s at least 16 years old commits first-degree sexual abuse of a minor when he or she “inflicts sexual intrusion on a victim who is less than 13 years of age.”

A conviction carries a prison sentence of 25-50 years.

A person aged at least 17 commits second-degree sexual abuse when he or she “inflicts sexual intrusion on a victim who is 13 through 15 years of age” and there’s at least a four-year age gap between the two.

Last week, Nelder waived his right to a jury trial in favor of a bench trial, in which Albany County District Court Judge Tori Kricken will determine his guilt.

Nelder’s case has also led Kricken to make a determination about the scope of power that a search warrant gives police.

In Nelder’s case, Kricken determined that a search warrant that was issued for Nelder’s motor home also extended to his pickup that was parked outside that motor home.

In November 2017, McKinney received a search warrant to search Nelder’s motor home for used condoms, bedding materials, towels and wash cloths and “data recording devices including but not limited to cellular telephones, computers, flash drives, hard drives, compact discs, and any other device that could store, transmit or receive electronic text message and digital images.”

When the sheriff’s office arrived to execute the search warrant the next day, Nelder came outside and told the deputies “let me go turn off my car, please.”

When McKinney asked Nelder if he had his cell phone, Nelder closed the door of his pickup and said his cell phone was in the pickup and “that’s where it’s going to stay, unless you have a search warrant for my car.”

McKinney told Nelder that he had a search warrant for the motor home, including his cell phone, and he “thus would be taking his cell phone,” according to court documents.

After Nelder was placed in handcuffs “for safety reasons,” McKinney opened the drive-side door of Mr. Nelder’s vehicle and “grabbed Mr. Nelder’s cell phone which is sitting in plain view.”

In October, Nelder’s attorney filed a motion to suppress any evidence produced from the cell phone, arguing that police exceeded the scope of the search warrant.

In a 36-page order on that question, Kricken determined that the search was legal based on a lengthy analysis of the case law regarding the U.S. Constitution’s and Wyoming Constitution’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

In determining that a person’s vehicle falls within the scope of a warrant for a residence, Kricken largely relied on a 1990 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case, U.S. v. Gottschalk, and that case’s subsequent interpretation which has stated that a search warrant for a residence “generally includes any vehicles located within its curtilage if the objects of the search might be located therein.”