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CHEYENNE — The sentencing of a Campbell County man convicted of aggravated assault and battery was unusual but not illegal, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a split decision.

Willis Center Sr. pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced by District Judge John Perry in November 2008 to 36 to 80 months in prison. But the judge stayed the sentence and granted Center a furlough so he could enter an alcohol rehabilitation treatment program.

Center failed the program primarily because he refused to complete the written first step of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program in use at the WySTAR center.

He was then sent to the state penitentiary.

On appeal, Center claimed that the sentence was illegal and that his right to due process was violated in the way his placement was revoked.

The Supreme Court majority, in an opinion written by Justice William Hill and including Chief Justice Marilyn Kite and Justice Michael Golden, said that while the sentence was “unusual and perhaps ill-advised,” it was not illegal.

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The high court ordered the district court to give Center credit against his sentence for the time spent in the alcohol rehabilitation program.

A dissenting opinion, written by Justice Barton Voigt and including Justice James Burke, said the sentence was illegal.

Voigt wrote that he could find no authority in state statute or court rules for a district court to “impose a prison sentence, stay execution of that sentence, release the defendant with conditions, but not on probation, have that release revoked without a hearing, and not give credit for time served at a facility where the defendant was subject to a charge of escape.”

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