Booth pleads guilty to sex abuse

TORRINGTON – In a surprise move last week, Michael Booth – the former Southeast High School girl’s basketball coach accused of having improper sexual relations with an underage girl – pleaded guilty on all counts before District Judge Patrick Korell.

The plea came at the end of a hearing, wherein the judge issued his ruling on a motion to suppress a confession Booth made to Goshen County Sheriff Department investigators Rick Scott and Sgt. Kory Fleenor in October 2017. The state contended Booth told Scott and Fleenor the details of the encounter with the girl – a former Southeast High School basketball player whom he coached and who was 16 years old at the time.

Defense attorney Cole Sherard of Laramie argued during a March hearing on the motion to suppress the confession that Booth had been the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy involving law enforcement, local attorneys and Booth’s estranged wife, Lindsy.

In issuing his ruling from the bench, Korell found Scott’s and Fleenor’s testimony “credible,” he said. Further, he ruled conversations between Michael Booth and Greg Knudson – whom Booth said he believed was his attorney – were not part of a larger conspiracy to force him to confess.

Also, the judge found no basis that Knudson and his daughter, Booth family friend Jessica Wiedman, furthered a conspiracy or were working as agents for law enforcement, attempting to coerce a confession, as the defense claimed in its
suppression motion.

During the suppression hearing in March, Scott and Fleenor both testified Booth voluntarily went to the Goshen County Sheriff’s Office, saying he wanted to confess. Booth “said he wanted to come in and make a statement regarding sexual contact with a minor,” Scott testified in March. “He wanted to confess he’d done that.

“He was informed of his rights on a standard form,” Scott said. “He indicated he understood them and he signed that he understood them.”

In its motion, the defense also claimed Michael Booth was denied legal representation during that confession. Korell, however, found that telling investigators he believed Knudson represented him – despite Knudson’s repeated testimony to the contrary in March – didn’t mean Booth had been deprived of Knudson’s services during the interview with Scott and Fleenor.

“I find the defendant has to directly ask for an attorney,” Korell said. “Merely mentioning an attorney is not sufficient.”

The defense also claimed investigators lied to Booth when they told him they hadn’t spoken to anyone else while looking into the case, when Scott testified in March he’d been in contact, both with Knudsen and Weidman, as recently as the day Booth was interviewed. Korell found those statements, in fact, had “little or no impact on the confession.”

In order for a confession to be coerced, there would had to have been overt action by the state, in this case the Goshen County Sheriff’s Office, Korell said. But he found none, saying that “outside influences might have caused (Booth) to confess, but it was not
state action.”

Following the judge’s ruling, County Attorney Brown told the court a plea agreement had been reached. Brown recommended a sentence of not less than four and not more than eight years incarceration.

In accepting Booth’s guilty plea, Korell continued bail, leaving Booth free pending a pre-sentencing investigation. All the conditions initially set on Booth’s freedom - including prohibiting contact with his victim and her family - remain in effect.

Brown said later pre-sentencing investigations can take two to three months. Booth will probably be sentenced early this summer.

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