Winters

Joshua Winters makes his initial appearance in Natrona County Circuit Court in July 2016. A jury convicted him in May on all counts.

File, Star-Tribune

A judge on Friday sentenced a carnival worker to a maximum of 115 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old boy whom he kidnapped from a Casper bowling alley last year.

As Natrona County District Court Judge Thomas Sullins handed down the sentence, the mother of the victim hugged her boyfriend while former carnival worker Joshua Winters rocked back and forward on the soles of his feet.

Joshua Winters received a 50- to 70-year sentence for kidnapping and 30 to 45 years on merged charges of first and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor. That sentence will begin after Winters completes his first sentence, meaning he would need to serve 80 to 115 years in prison He received credit for 416 days served.

Winters, 34, was convicted in May after a four-day jury trial in which he took the stand in his own defense.

At his sentencing hearing Friday in Natrona County District Court, Winters maintained his innocence. He said he still did not remember the entirety of the July 2016 day when he kidnapped and molested the child.

"I know deep down in my heart I would not harm a child," Winters said, despite a jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt that he had done just that.

Winters claimed he had a problem with alcohol, rather than "with children." 

"I beg you to give me the chance to live my life again," he said. As Winters worked toward the conclusion of his remarks, the victim's mother whispered, "How much longer?"

Soon after, Sullins handed down the sentence, asking that Winters also have access to "any and all" substance use treatment available to him in prison.

Unusual start

The hearing began just after 10:30 a.m., with Sullins considering whether to allow the victim's father and step-mother to listen in on the proceedings by phone from their out-of-state home.

The judge eventually decided to allow them to listen in without speaking, although he noted it was a procedure typically confined to civil cases, rather than criminal ones. The couple was not allowed to speak during the hearing, but did provide a written statement to the court.

The victim's mother spoke soon thereafter, saying "It takes a lot of courage to come up here."

She said Winters had HIV, and her son had to be tested for the virus.

Thus far, the results have come back negative, Oldham said later.

The victim, who splits time between his parents' homes, visited Casper over the summer, which his mother described as traumatic. She said he may not return to the town again.

Halfway through her statement, she said "I have so much more to say but I don't know if I'm gonna be able to," as her voice quivered.

She said her son was undergoing counseling as a result of the trauma he endured at Winters' hands, and said Winters will "have to live with (his actions) the rest of his life."

A man who described himself as a "long-time friend" of Winters spoke next, alternating between questioning the quality of Winters's defense counsel, bemoaning Winters's fraught childhood and referencing the Sermon on the Mount.

Jim Arcane of Massachusetts concluded his remarks by asking the judge to sentence his friend to probation and allow Winters to stay with him on the east coast. 

In contrast, the prosecuting attorney sought a 125-year-to-life sentence for Winters, describing the victim's tears on the morning of the crime as "the kind of crying that shakes the entire community."

After Oldham asked for leniency in sentencing his client, he said his request seems "ridiculous to just about everybody in (the) courtroom except me and my client."

When Winters spoke, he described the investigative interrogation process as "intense and deceitful."

That did little to sway Judge Sullins, who noted that jurors had found that Winters committed the kidnapping specifically to sexually assault the boy.

"The aggravating factors are many in number," Sullins said.

After being sentenced, Winters waved to his friend and was escorted out of the courtroom.

"Justice has been served"

After the hearing ended, prosecutor Kevin Taheri described the sentence as "appropriate when you consider the crimes (Winters) was convicted of."

The victim's mother said the boy and his brother were both having a hard time healing from the event. She described the past year as "the most horrifying...year ever in my entire life."

Winters "blaming" his alcohol use and childhood trauma for his actions was "unbelievable," she said.

"I'm glad he's gone," she said. "Justice has been served."

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