John Potter gets 12-18 years for manslaughter in the 2013 Rails to Trails homicide

(Lander, Wyo.) – Ninth District Court Judge Norman E. Young this afternoon sentenced John Ani Potter, 16, to a total of 12-18 years in prison to Manslaughter and Aiding and Abetting Aggravated Assault and Battery in connection to the Sept. 4, 2013, death of David Moss Jr., 25, and the beating of Aleeah Crispin.

The sentence was imposed after a roughly 80 minute hearing in which Young heard from attorneys on both sides of the case, along with testimony from Moss’s mother. Young sentenced Potter to 12-18 years for the manslaughter and 6-10 years for aiding and abetting the assault. Both sentences are to run concurrently

Young agreed to the recommendation suggested by Potter’s Attorney Carrie Johnson that Potter should be recommended for the boot camp program once he turns 18. Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney Michael Bennett had argued for a maximum sentence of 18-20 years and declined to comment on whether or not boot camp would be appropriate. However, he argued, and Young said he agreed, that sentencing needs to take into account prevention of future violent crimes and rehabilitation of the defendant.

Santana Mendoza, the same age, is also charged with the crimes. He has also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced at a later date. It is alleged that Mendoza and Potter beat both victims. Their motivation has been unclear throughout the case, and Young said he wished he knew more about why the attack occurred.

Potter toward the end of the hearing addressed the court and apologized for his actions. “I’m sorry with all my heart,” he said. “I should have just told him (Mendoza) no.” Potter claimed during his guilty plea in February that the attack had been Mendoza’s idea.

Moss’s mother, Victoria Moss addressed the court with two of her other children Thomas and Agnes standing with her. Thomas held a photo of David Moss. She talked about her son’s character and how important he was to the family. “We loved him, trusted and relied on him,” she said. “You took away so much, so much goodness and kindness.”

Bennett said he believed a maximum sentence was appropriate to satisfy both the prevention of future crimes and Potter’s rehabilitation. He noted that originally the defendants had been charged with second degree murder, but he said he now believes that neither of them had intended to kill Moss.

Johnson argued for her client’s rehabilitation and said there is time for Potter to still be a productive member of society and locking him away for a significant number of years. “There’s a lot of punishment excluding prison,” she said, noting the guilt he’ll feel for the rest of his life and the consequences of being a convicted felon. She said he’s been on track with schooling while in prison and asked the judge to consider a possible split sentence so he could spend his senior year in a real school. Young did not agree to the split sentence. She asked Young to give him a boot camp recommendation so he can be further rehabilitated and have a possibility for a shortened sentence later. “Don’t shut that door on him,” she said.

Young said this was the first time he’d ever sentenced a 16-year-old for a crime of this magnitude.