Bond set for alleged involuntary manslaughter

Rhett Breedlove
Posted 5/17/24

TORRINGTON – The Goshen County Circuit Court met Tuesday morning promptly at 11 a.m. for the initial hearing of University of Wyoming (UW) student, Gage Zook (20) on one felony charge of …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Bond set for alleged involuntary manslaughter


TORRINGTON – The Goshen County Circuit Court met Tuesday morning promptly at 11 a.m. for the initial hearing of University of Wyoming (UW) student, Gage Zook (20) on one felony charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Zook was allegedly responsible for an accidental hunting incident which took place within Goshen County in January of 2024. 

The event caused the death of 19-year-old Minnesota resident, Maurizio Justiniano. 

Presiding over the hearing was judge Nathaniel Hibben, with deputy and prosecuting attorney, Colby Sturgeon, representing the State of Wyoming.

Serving as defense counsel on behalf of Zook was Pinedale attorney, Clay Kainer, who was digitally present.

After addressing the defendant, along with going over his constitutional rights, judge Hibben proceeded to go over the pending charges as well as the lawful purpose of the morning’s hearing.

“It was filed by the Goshen County Attorney’s Office that on April 28 I did issue a criminal warrant for you, and that was issued on the day of request,” judge Hibben began. “That warrant was quashed, and you are appearing here on summons. It reputedly informs the court Mr. Zook that you did unlawfully on January 20, 2024, involuntarily and recklessly kill a human being without malice. You did involuntarily but recklessly kill Mauricio Justiniano, which states to be against the peace of Wyoming. The formal name by the state is involuntary manslaughter whereby you could be imprisoned for no more than twenty years.”

After reviewing said charges with those present in the courtroom, the state prosecution was given an opportunity to discuss an appropriate bond to be set going forward.

According to the state and despite Zook having no prior criminal record, the seriousness of the allegation must be taken seriously by rule of law.

“This comes by date somewhat of an unusual circumstance,” Sturgeon began. “By the information and summons, originally a warrant was issued. By conversations with Mr. Kainer, the defendant and Eric Boyer it was agreed to quash the warrant and help the defendant with his current schedule. So that’s what was going on, nonetheless the defendant did show up with his folks under his own free will and obtained an attorney to represent him in this. The state doesn’t have any issues currently as far as bond, Your Honor. Really, I think the main component of recommending bond in this matter is the seriousness of the crime. We have an individual who was killed, and we have an involuntary manslaughter charge.

“We don’t believe the defendant has a criminal history. We don’t have one on him but if he does it’s rather limited,” Sturgeon continued. “That’s really where the state is in nature of the crime and the seriousness of it. With that Your Honor what the state would recommend is 10% of $25,000 which would be $2,500. I would also ask the defendant to be given an opportunity, maybe by the end of the week to post it. Something to make sure there is a little bit of teeth behind all this to make sure he does appear, and to make sure he is always law-biding. He is not to drink, although he’s not old enough anyways. And there are to be no violations of the law. It’s very simple.”

After hearing statement in relation to bond from Sturgeon and the state’s prosecution, defense counsel Kainer responded before the court in terms deemed to be appropriate for his client.

“Currently my client sits on what is ostensibly realized upon his own cognizance,” Kainer stated. “We would ask this to continue, or if the court is inclined to set a bond which would be unsecured. Mr. Zook has appeared as requested, as this matter was discovered when there was a warrant out. He has obtained counsel and has been in contact with me quite frequently. I can represent to the court, Mr. Zook has zero criminal history, and this is not an alleged type of crime which brings toward the spear of community safety. I understand the state’s request based on the seriousness of the charges. I can assure Mr. Zook understands this and will be an active participant in these proceedings. As such we would ask either the court continue his release on his own cognizance, or a bond to be unsecure at this time.”

After hearing statements from both defense and prosecution, judge Hibben proceeded in addressing the defendant a final time before setting bond, as well as terms to be immediately followed.

As the circuit judge would explain in valid detail, despite the defendant having no prior criminal history as well as being a current student at the UW, the circumstances surrounding the alleged incident are undoubtedly quite severe.

“All of those [considerations] are very good in setting a bond, and we will consider them,” judge Hibben stated. “I am required to consider the seriousness of the charges, and it is very serious. I don’t set a bond by review or in considering you to be a danger to the community. Sometimes this is true, but I don’t think it’s true here. I do however set a bond due to the seriousness of this, and one which carries a maximum penalty in prison of up to 20 years. So, Mr. Zook in light of all these things it is one where you need to have some skin in the game. An unsecure bond is considerable but is not appropriate. The state’s recommendation is appropriate which itself is a modest bond, but it will be 10% of $25,000, and I expect you to have it posted by May 21.”

Just prior to the court standing in recess from the hearing, judge Hibben was insistent in the defendant strictly abiding by all terms and rules set within his bond, not to mention paying it on time.

“The Goshen County Courthouse is closed at 4 p.m.,” judge Hibben continued. “All other counties in the state are open until five, but not in Goshen. If you can’t post $2,500, you need to book yourself in the Goshen County Detention Center where you will remain. If you violate any part of the bond, you or whoever posted it would lose that $2,500 dollars and it would go to the county school fund. I don’t mean to suggest any of those things will come to pass, but it is imperative you understand what occurs when a bond is violated.”

The court stood in recess at 11:32 a.m.