CHEYENNE - A federal appeals court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal filed by a Wyoming woman who was convicted of murdering her husband nearly 30 years after he was shot to death in 1977.
A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Wednesday ruled against Rita Ann Humphrey. She had argued that her 2006 second-degree murder conviction in Wyoming courts violated her constitutional right to a speedy trial.
The appeals court ruling, written by Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, upholds an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer of Cheyenne. Brimmer in December ruled that Humphrey had failed to show that the prosecution violated her rights.
Humphrey is serving a prison sentence of 25-40 years at the women's prison in Lusk. An attempt to reach her lawyer, Diane Courselle, for comment was not immediately successful.
Jack Humphrey was found shot to death in the couple's home in Evansville in 1977. Although Rita Ann Humphrey was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in 1980, a state judge that year dismissed the case against her, saying it was too weak to go to trial.
In 2004, state prosecutors charged Humphrey for the second time with killing her husband. A state district judge that year dismissed that charge, saying it violated her right to a speedy trial. The state supreme court reinstated it in late 2006.
The state Supreme Court ruled that the 24 years that passed between the first and second prosecutions should not be considered in determining her right to a speedy trial.
In a court hearing last October, Courselle argued to Brimmer that the case had stalled for 20 years until Jack Humphrey's sister, Bonnie Humphrey, was elected mayor of Evansville in the late 1990s. Courselle said Bonnie Humphrey hired a new police chief who pressed the investigation that led to the new charges against Rita Ann Humphrey.
Courselle said it was impossible for Rita Ann Humphrey to get a fair trial after so many years. The lawyer said witnesses had died while evidence had disappeared. She argued that it was a "monumental mistake" for the state Supreme Court to allow the second charge against her to proceed to trial.
Terry Armitage, deputy Wyoming attorney general, said Wednesday that such cases surface occasionally.
"From time to time, we have some of these cold cases where it's taken years to finally get the technology or the evidence or witnesses to come forward," Armitage said. "And when the prosecutor has that proof beyond a reasonable doubt, we can get the conviction and have all the evidence we need to uphold the conviction, even though it's years later."